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How Moriarty won the race for Hennepin County Attorney

Mary Moriarty defeated Martha Holton Dimick by nearly 16 percentage points in Tuesday’s Hennepin County attorney race.

Mary Moriarty speaking to members of the press during her election night gathering.
Mary Moriarty speaking to members of the press during her election night gathering.
MinnPost photo by Peyton Sitz

Mary Moriarty won the race to be the next Hennepin County Attorney Tuesday night, roundly defeating Martha Holton Dimick by nearly 16 percentage points, a feat accomplished by winning Minneapolis and most suburban cities in the county.

That Moriarty, the progressive favorite, outperformed expectations in some of the less lefty corners of Hennepin County, was, to some, an early indication that tougher-on-crime messages might not be resonating in the suburbs as expected.

After all precincts had reported, MinnPost examined where Moriarty picked up her vote advantage, where Dimick won, and how the issue of increased crime appeared to play much less of a role than many anticipated.

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Dominance in Minneapolis 

Dimick, a former Hennepin County prosecutor and Fourth Judicial District judge, called reducing violent crime her top priority, saying she would dedicate more resources to prosecuting violent offenders and establish a task force with law enforcement and community members to curb rising crime. 

Moriarty, on the other hand, was a public defender for 31 years, and put the emphasis on police accountability and restorative justice. She pledged to call out police misconduct during cases and prosecute officers who do wrong, while also devoting resources to violence prevention and diversion programs for low-level offenders.

Moriarty carried every ward in Minneapolis, winning with more than 60% of the vote citywide and  at least 55% of ballots cast in each of the individual wards.

Votes for Moriarty and Dimick by Minneapolis ward
Source: Minnesota Secretary of State

She won big among voters in wards 8 and 9 — the middle portion of South Minneapolis that includes the intersection where George Floyd was murdered — where she received the highest percentage of the vote at 72% and 75%, respectively. Ward 7, which includes the Uptown area and Ward 13 in the city’s southwestern corner — which make up the wealthier parts of the city’s electorate — were where the margins were the smallest, with Moriarty receiving 55% of the vote in each.

Before the election, North Minneapolis appeared to be where the race would be closest, due to Dimick’s residence there for more than 20 years and her performance in those wards during the August primary. But Moriarty comfortably held both North wards, 4 and 5, by more than 60% each.

Moriarty’s victory somewhat mirrored the results of a failed ballot initiative put to Minneapolis voters last year that would have replaced the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety.

Martha Holton Dimick
MinnPost photo by Peyton Sitz
Martha Holton Dimick speaking to supporters at her election night gathering.
Her message of police accountability appeared to resonate most with voters in areas like wards 8 and 9 where she won by the biggest margins, which were also the areas that voted heavily in favor of the ballot initiative to replace the police department in 2021. Wards 7 and 13, where the race was the closest citywide, strongly opposed the ballot question. Wards have been redistricted since 2021, which shook up the geography slightly, so the comparison between election results is close but not perfect.

The results were also similar to the primary between U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and challenger Don Samuels for the 5th Congressional District seat earlier this year – further illuminating the fissure between the progressive and more moderate factions of the city’s Democratic voter base.

Nearly all of the areas that Dimick won outright were farther west of Minneapolis, where voters in cities like Medina, Orono and Wayzata favored Dimick. One exception was Edina, which is much closer to the county’s urban core, where Dimick carried with more than 52% of the vote. 

Here’s a table showing Moriarty and Dimick’s vote totals by city.

Moriarty’s victory was bolstered by a wide margin in Minneapolis — a large share of the county’s votes. Unless you include Fort Snelling, an unorganized territory where fewer than 70 people voted in the race and where Moriarty won 70% of votes, she didn’t win more than 61% of the vote in any city in the county outside Minneapolis.

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Crime as an issue

The typically quiet race for the county’s top prosecutor was pushed into the spotlight this election cycle as increased crime and police accountability were framed as competing issues by some campaigns and their supporters.

An increase in crime citywide was expected to play a large role in this race, and in other races statewide, with Republicans and some moderate Democrats campaigning hard on the issue. The loss by Dimick, who was seen as the “law and order” candidate in the race and pledged to prosecute more offenders in an effort to reduce crime, appeared to be emblematic of the lack of potency the issue had among voters that was suggested by polling before the election.

Gov. Tim Walz, who won a second term Tuesday against Republican challenger Scott Jensen, told reporters on Wednesday that attacks from the GOP regarding how Democrats have handled crime didn’t resonate with voters because the criticism didn’t come with solutions. 

“A lot of Minnesotans said pointing out that problem without offering a solution does us nothing,” he said. “I heard about it on the campaign. They were concerned about it. But they are concerned about solutions.”