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More voters cast DFL primary ballots as Walz, Jensen look ahead to November

Jensen carried more than 87 percent of the vote on the GOP side of the primary and Walz had 97 percent. While the separate primaries are hard to compare, more state voters chose DFL ballots than GOP ballots by nearly 110,000.

Gov. Tim Walz speaking on Primary Election night at a gathering for Rep. Betty McCollum in St. Paul.
Gov. Tim Walz speaking on Primary Election night at a gathering for Rep. Betty McCollum in St. Paul.

In election politics, you take victories wherever you can find them. The two endorsed candidates for governor of Minnesota did just that following primary victories Tuesday against unknown and unfunded party rivals.

Jensen carried more than 87 percent of the vote on the GOP side of the primary against two marginal opponents. Walz did even better — 97 percent — against a perennial DFL candidate. While the separate primaries are hard to compare, more state voters chose DFL ballots than GOP ballots by nearly 110,000.

“While tonight’s victory may have been more of a formality, it’s still a clear signal that Minnesotans want safer streets, a world class education for their children, and an end to soaring inflation,” Jensen said. As he has before, he called on Walz to agree to more debates.

Walz’s own election night statement summarized his campaign theme expressed so far: The state faced tough times and he managed the way through it.

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“Minnesota has rallied to overcome historic challenges, and together we’re making progress,” Walz said.

Having the primary behind them, though, means the general election can begin officially, even though it likely began the moment Jensen bested four other GOP candidates to secure the endorsement in mid-May. Jensen had already been targeting the incumbent but it was then that Walz and DFL groups and surrogates zeroed in on Jensen.

For Jensen, the campaign should be about public safety and inflation. For Walz, it should be about his management of the COVID-19 pandemic, support for maintaining abortion access, and rejecting the doubts sown about the 2020 election results by GOP nominees up and down the ballot.

Alliance for a Better Minnesota, which backs Walz, already has a post-primary TV ad out accusing Jensen of holding extreme views on abortion.

During back-to-back interviews on MPR News Wednesday, the two put their campaign themes on display, though Jensen spent time trying to clarify his position on abortion and exceptions for rape, incest and health of the mother.

Jensen again accused Walz of freezing during the early hours of rioting following the murder of George Floyd and not doing enough to aid the cities facing waves of shootings and carjackings.

“Democrats will say abortion is our winning ticket,” Jensen said. “But that’s not on the ballot in November. What we’re hearing all over the state of Minnesota is the lawlessness that has invaded Minnesota cities in both the urban areas and Greater Minnesota and the inflation that could have been avoided in so many situations.”

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Walz said the election is about “things we’ve done, about proven leadership. These have been challenging years. Minnesotans came together, we moved forward.” Walz also said most voters have not yet engaged in the election and, according to polling, aren’t familiar with Jensen, something he promised to change.

“Once they get to know (him), I think they’ll see his agendas and positions aren’t for them,” he said. 

On debates, Jensen accused Walz of dodging and canceling them. Just one — a forum before a Farmfest audience last week — has been held so far. While Walz said he expects debates, he said he was wary of giving Jensen a bigger forum for “spewing conspiracy theories” and misinformation on COVID-19.

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Scott Jensen speaking to an attendee of Farmfest earlier this month.
The most-recent state Campaign Finance Board filings show Walz with a sizeable fundraising advantage. At the end of July, the Walz campaign had raised $6.3 million and still had $5 million in the bank. The Jensen campaign, which first had to compete for the party endorsement against four other candidates, had raised $2.26 million and had $508,000 cash on hand. 

Jensen highlighted the money discrepancy in a fundraising email announcing his primary victory Tuesday evening.

In addition to that advantage, independent expenditure campaigns in Minnesota tend to be dominated by DFL and DFL-leaning groups, as this analysis of 2018 spending shows. And the state DFL party continues to be a more-potent fundraising organization than the state GOP. Independent expenditure campaigns are not subject to the same contribution limits as candidate committees. By law, however, they are not allowed to coordinate their activities with campaigns.

All four marijuana legalization party candidates combined attracted fewer than 4,600 votes in the governor’s race. The least popular candidate in the DFL and GOP primaries received almost three times as many votes. Still, as major parties, two will advance to the general election: James McCaskel for the Legal Marijuana Now Party and Steve Patterson for the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis party.

On Wednesday, Grassroots party founder Oliver Steinberg said Patterson is not a member or follower of the party and repudiated his nomination.

Also on the November ballot for governor will be Independence Alliance candidate Hugh McTavish and Socialist Workers Party candidate Gabrielle Prosser.

Primary turnout

The Minnesota Secretary of State’s office reported that 18% of eligible voters cast ballots in Tuesday’s primary. That is down from both 2020 and 2018 when the percentage of voters taking part was 22.25 percent and 22.77 percent. But it is higher than in 2016 when only 7.42 percent of voters cast primary ballots. Requests for mail ballots were down considerably in 2022 compared with the pandemic-impacted primary in 2020. Turnout is much lower for primary elections than general elections in Minnesota.

Primary vote totals among the parties vary greatly election-to-election with the DFL usually gathering more total votes. In 2018, with contested races among both the GOP and DFL, the DFL candidates tallied 320,914 more votes than Republicans. In 2014, with incumbent Mark Dayton mostly unopposed and contested GOP and Independence party primaries, the DFL had just 7,000 more votes than the GOP contenders. And in 2010, with primaries on both sides but more competition on the DFL side, the DFL collectively drew nearly 312,000 more votes.

In all of those elections, DFL candidates ended up winning the general election. The last time a Republican gubernatorial candidate won in November — Tim Pawlenty in 2006 — the primary also showed a similar imbalance favoring the DFL, with DFL candidates winning more than 150,000 more primary votes than Republicans.