As the midterm elections loom in November, Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen has been losing ground to incumbent Gov. Tim Walz.
A KSTP/SurveyUSA poll released on Sept. 6th indicates Walz had taken a lead of 18 points over Jensen, extended from 5 points in May. This dramatic drop for Jensen occurred as the country has faced a major shift in the realm of reproductive rights, with multiple state legislatures across the nation enacting near-total abortion bans. Despite the majority of Americans opposing the repeal of Roe v. Wade, it was heralded as a political win by the right. Consequently, it’s now increasingly showing itself as a political liability.
After decades of relentlessly pursuing the reversal of the constitutional right to choose, the GOP establishment is now beginning to absorb its political ramifications. The landmark Supreme Court decision now appears to have become an issue affecting the electability of candidates who have previously supported extreme abortion bans, especially in swing states. An initial wake-up call came in August from Kansas, where an attempt to revoke reproductive rights enshrined in the state constitution was resoundingly rebuked by the majority of voters. These results, coming from a long-standing red state, were sobering. Republican candidates across the nation scrambled to scrub their websites of the abortion ban language in an attempt to present a less extreme image. Meanwhile, others sought to exclude the topic of abortion from their campaigns altogether.
In a recent campaign ad, Jensen props up a baby and calls out Gov. Tim Walz for “weaponizing the issue” of abortion. Despite Jensen previously making it clear in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio that he was committed to eliminating abortion access with no exceptions for rape or incest, he is now changing his message less than two months before the election. In the ad, Jensen seeks to reassure voters that he is not going to try to revoke reproductive rights. He states, “In Minnesota, (abortion is) a protected, constitutional right and no governor can change that. And I’m not running to do that.” Notably, this drastic about-face is not the first time Jensen seemed to suddenly reverse course to ride shifting political winds.
A bipartisan bill that Jensen co-authored in the Minnesota Senate in 2018 would have required criminal background checks for firearm transfers, closing loopholes that allow convicted felons to obtain firearms through private transfers. Shortly thereafter, Jensen had his name officially stricken from the bill upon encountering backlash from right-wing critics. Evidently, he is not averse to abandoning promises in exchange for political points. There is little reason to believe that Jensen will not change his stance on reproductive rights, yet again, if pressured by Republican leadership.
Will voters buy the last-minute change in Jensen’s abortion ban stance and see it as genuine and not just a last-ditch attempt to salvage his campaign? All while GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham is officially calling for a nation-wide ban. It remains to be seen. What is clear, though, is that reproductive rights are on the ballot this November and no amount of political gamesmanship can guarantee that Jensen will remain committed to keeping Minnesotans’ reproductive rights intact.
Jordan Rynning is originally from Kennedy, Minnesota. A United States Navy veteran, he has a professional background in military intelligence analysis and he holds a degree in Political Science from University of Hawaii.