A contested primary that the state Republican party didn’t want to happen ended quietly Tuesday night with endorsed candidate for attorney general Jim Schultz winning easily against rival Doug Wardlow.
Schultz, a private practice and business attorney, topped the 2018 party nominee by winning more than 50 percent of the vote in the GOP side of the primary. Wardlow was a distant second and perennial candidate Sharon Anderson an even more distant third.
Schultz can now turn his attention to the person he has tried to focus on since the GOP convention: DFL incumbent Keith Ellison, who faced only token opposition in his primary.
Public safety and crime are the issues Schultz has said he will emphasize, not the issues of abortion rights and the 2020 presidential election that Wardlow brought into the primary.
“Every person is a child of God and deserves public safety, deserves to live in a safe community and not to have bullets go into their homes,” Schultz said at his election night party in St. Paul. “Tonight will be an important first step in making sure that we beat Keith Ellison in 2022.”
Schultz said he needed to work to win support from those who backed Wardlow. “I think that they will,” he said.
Ellison, however, will use his defense of abortion rights in a state where polls show support for it. Ellison will also tie Schultz to former President Trump and the GOP’s continued rejection of the 2020 results despite assertions by elections officials, courts or even the former president’s justice department that there was no widespread fraud.
In an election night statement, the first-term attorney general said the choices were clear for general election voters.
“They can either reelect an attorney general who has been protecting their right to a safe, legal abortion and will continue to do so, or someone who has vowed to attack Minnesotans’ reproductive freedom,” Ellison said.
The GOP primary for attorney general was the only toss-up for statewide partisan office. All other party endorsed candidates were mostly unchallenged and will advance to the general election. Incumbent DFL Gov. Tim Walz will face former state Sen. Scott Jensen for governor; incumbent DFL Secretary of State Steve Simon will face GOP challenger Kim Crockett; and incumbent state Auditor Julie Blaha will runoff against endorsed GOP candidate Ryan Wilson.
Both Schultz and Wardlow sought the endorsement of the party at its Rochester convention in May. Both pledged to drop out if the other candidate won that endorsement. But Wardlow decided after the convention, despite offering his support in his convention withdrawal speech, that he would, in fact, enter the primary. State GOP chair David Hann criticized the move, but Schultz mostly ignored Wardlow during the nearly three months between the convention and the primary.
Most of his messaging was against Ellison (though he did tease Wardlow with a primary eve tweet that read “I am the ONLY candidate who hasn’t already lost to Keith Ellison,” a reference to Wardlow’s defeat in the 2018 attorney general race.
Also on the GOP primary ballot was Anderson, something of a perennial candidate who lost to Wardlow in the 2018 GOP primary for the same office. She has another place in state GOP election history: the last non-endorsed candidate to beat an endorsed GOP candidate for a statewide partisan office. That was 1994 when she won the attorney general primary, only to lose to Skip Humphrey in the general election. The same year Arne Carlson won the party primary for governor against endorsed Allen Quist.
With those exceptions aside, GOP voters — more so than DFL voters — honor their convention endorsement process.
There will be no candidate from either of the legal marijuana parties on the general election ballot, a change from 2018 when a candidate from the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis party won nearly 6 percent of the vote.
There is one other historic superlative that will be at play in the general election: Minnesota Republicans have not held the attorney general’s office since 1971.