The first sign that stakes are high in the 2022 Republican primary for Minnesota attorney general came via a simple Google search.
For several weeks, a search for “Doug Wardlow” resulted in ads with titles like “Doug Wardlow Lacks Integrity” or “Doug Wardlow Lies” and “Who is Doug Wardlow Running For?”
The ads appeared to be routine political hits until you saw who was sponsoring them: “Paid for by the Republican Party of Minnesota.”
Wardlow may have been the GOP nominee for attorney general in 2018, but he did not get endorsed this year. While the ads were gone this week, their presence indicated that Wardlow’s biggest opponent is his own party – at least until the end of the Aug. 9 primary when the winner will face incumbent DFL Attorney General Keith Ellison.
State GOP officials are still angry that Wardlow is spoiling what had been an otherwise successful effort to have convention delegates – not primary voters – determine the party’s general election candidate. Those delegates endorsed Jim Schultz.
Wardlow’s presence on the ballot is especially upsetting to party leaders because he had pledged to honor the endorsement process. On the evening of his convention win, Schultz tried to dismiss the chances of a contested primary – either with Wardlow, former state legislator Dennis Smith, or both.
“The general election starts tomorrow,” Schultz said at the convention. “We’re running against Keith Ellison.” And he noted a key fact about Minnesota politics: While DFL primary voters often buck the party’s endorsement, Republicans do not. In fact, no non-endorsed GOP candidate has beat out an endorsed candidate in a primary in nearly three decades.
Wardlow was leading on the first and second ballots at the May convention but fell behind after a third candidate, Tad Jude, dropped out and endorsed Schultz. While Schultz fell just short of 60 percent on the third ballot, he appeared headed for victory and Wardlow dropped out, promising to delegates to “be with you in the fight.”
But he said in an interview last week that the convention process was tainted and that lies were spread about him on the convention floor. Besides, he said, hundreds of supporters urged him to carry on because he was the only candidate who was truly “America First,” a reference to the organization behind another campaign by former President Trump.
Recent campaign finance reports show Wardlow had raised $524,875 with $34,536 cash on hand. Schultz had raised $409,262 with $113,299 unspent. Ellison raised $935,587 with $572,741 cash on hand.
Public safety, but also abortion and election fraud
Schultz is a native of the small town of South Haven in Wright County. He traces his Minnesota roots to a Civil War veteran who settled in the state in 1875. Schultz attended seminary at the University of St. Thomas for two years before earning an undergraduate degree there and then attending Harvard Law School.
His legal work has been in private practice with local firms and as in-house counsel for Minnesota-based investment firm Värde Partners. His expertise is in business, regulatory and compliance law.
Schultz’s campaign did not respond to multiple interview requests for this story.
Wardlow was the GOP nominee in 2018, entering the race and winning his party’s endorsement before the DFL side of the race was riled by then-incumbent Lori Swanson’s late decision to run for governor instead. He lost by four percentage points to Ellison, who left his seat in Congress to run for the statewide office that hasn’t been held by a Republican since 1971.
Wardlow grew up in Eagan and is a Georgetown University undergraduate and law school graduate who served one term in the state House of Representatives from Burnsville.
Wardlow’s legal practice has been representing conservative causes and organizations for national groups. Recently, as in-house counsel for MyPillow, Wardlow has helped MyPillow CEO and conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell file several legal challenges to the 2020 presidential election results.
Challenging the GOP endorsed candidate is one thing, but Wardlow is going beyond that by pushing issues in ways that make Schultz and GOP strategists nervous. Schultz wants to focus on crime, crime and crime with some inflation thrown in (polling suggests those are issues that could play well for the GOP).
While Wardlow agrees with Schultz on public safety, he speaks frequently about his anti-abortion views and claims that voter fraud tainted elections not just in 2020 but for years before that, despite there being no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
Last week Wardlow held a press conference to announce plans to “wage war” on the 1995 state Supreme Court ruling in Doe v. Gomez that established a state constitutional right to abortion and to state funding of abortions for women on medical assistance. A recent MinnPost poll found that a majority of Democrats and Republicans in Minnesota support abortion rights in cases of rape, incest, non-viable pregnancies and when the mother’s life is threatened.
“I want the abortion industry to take notice,” Wardlow said. “From the first day that I take office until the last day, their activities will be investigated with the strictest scrutiny. And if they misstep in any way, the full resources of the attorney general’s office will be brought to bear against them.”
Wardlow, who opposes abortion except to save the life of the mother, goes a step further by accusing Schultz and the state GOP of not doing enough to fight against abortion rights. Schultz has said he supports an abortion ban after the 20th week, which Wardlow argues makes Schultz “effectively pro-choice,” dubbing him “Pro-choice Jim.”
Schultz defends his anti-abortion credentials, citing a Mankato pregnancy resource center he co-founded that counsels pregnant women against abortion. He has also served on the board of the Human Life Alliance that publishes anti-abortion literature and guides. During a pre-convention forum sponsored by the Minnesota Family Council, Schultz said Republicans need to be more aggressive, stressing that many DFL leaders oppose many restrictions on abortion that polling shows many pro-abortion rights Minnesotans support.
“Democrats attack us, the media attack us and then Republicans go into a defensive crouch,” Schultz said. If elected, “it’s going to be offense, offense, offense.”
But Schultz mostly avoids the subject, preferring to campaign on public safety. When asked about abortion after his endorsement, Schultz said his job as attorney general is to enforce the laws on the books and that changing abortion policy is up to the governor and Legislature.
Schultz has also tried to steer clear of questions about the 2020 election results. Not Wardlow.
“It has been my honor to stand with Mike Lindell for free speech and election integrity,” Wardlow told convention delegates in May. “We will make sure the people who are stealing our elections are going to prison.”
Allegations that the 2020 presidential election was stolen by Democrats have been dismissed by courts, election administrators and even the Trump Justice Department. But Wardlow told Steve Bannon on his “The War Room” program last month that Trump won Minnesota and said he would train police how to spot and investigate election fraud.
“Once we have clean and clear elections in Minnesota, we’ll find that Minnesota has been a red state for quite some time,” Wardlow said. Biden defeated Trump by more than 7 percentage points – 233,012 votes – in Minnesota two years ago.
Public safety parallels
Generally, however, there is little space between the two on the issues Republicans want to stress. Both condemn Ellison for supporting police reform measures and for his criticisms of police behavior. Schultz says Ellison supported “defund the police” campaigns by endorsing a Minneapolis ballot measure to remake the department.
“It is immoral to embrace policies that result in crime and violence plaguing our communities,” Schultz said at a press conference last month unveiling a crime-themed campaign ad. “Right now we have an AG who is interested in everything but that.” Schultz has been endorsed by the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association.
Both say they will reorganize the office of attorney general (Schultz says he’ll take a sledgehammer to it) to shift more resources to the criminal division.
“Most of them spend their time driving Minnesota businesses into the ground and driving them out of state,” Schultz said of assistant attorneys general who enforce environmental and business regulations.
Currently, only if county attorneys request help, or the governor directs it, can the attorney general enter into criminal prosecutions. But both GOP candidates said they would work with local prosecutors and encourage more requests for help. Wardlow said he would consider asking for more original jurisdiction over criminal cases but Schultz said he was reluctant to make such a change, preferring to build relationships with the counties.
Both also criticized county attorneys who have decided not to prosecute some crimes, saying they would use the high-profile office to pressure them for changes. Both support mandatory minimum prison sentences for carjacking and crimes with firearms. Both said they oppose transgender athletes competing in girls sports and both said they would fight against the use of critical race theory in schools, though neither has cited cases where it is being taught.
Finally, both Wardlow and Schultz said they oppose vaccine mandates and would have resisted Gov. Tim Walz’s executive orders during the pandemic.
“I would not be an accomplice to Tim Walz violating our constitutional rights,” Schultz said at the Minnesota Family Council forum.
“I would have sued the governor,” Wardlow said.
Correction: This story was changed to correct that it was 1994, not 1982 when GOP voters in Minnesota last nominated a candidate who had challenged a convention-endorsed candidate.