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This week in campaign coverage: new ads, old conflicts, and a marriage proposal

Our weekly roundup of notable 2018 election reporting from Greater Minnesota.

Rep. Tim Walz, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson and state Rep. Erin Murphy participated in a gubernatorial candidates forum last week in Mankato.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

Welcome to This Week in Campaign Coverage, a weekly roundup of notable 2018 election reporting from around Greater Minnesota.

Early voting in Minnesota’s Aug. 14 primary has begun, and the new ‘no-excuse’ absentee voting option is already breaking records. As of last week, more than 29,000 votes had already been cast. One reason is the myriad of competetive races, of course, but there also might be something in the recent NBC News/Marist poll showing that a majority of registered voters in Minnesota (ditto Michigan and Wisconsin) disapprove of the way Donald Trump is doing his job. Meanwhile, it’s the season for debates and forums, including next week’s big Farmfest, where we’ll finally get to see all the candidates from some key races together.


Did somebody say debates? Greater Minnesota was the theme in the gubernatorial debate last Thursday in Mankato, where all the guv candidates were present except Lori Swanson and Tim Pawlenty. MinnPost’s Peter Callaghan wrote that those who were there — GOPer Jeff Johnson and DFLers Tim Walz and Erin Murphy — “used anecdotes and one-liners to express their Greater Minnesota bona fides.” And  the Forum News Service’s Don Davis summed up the event by saying, “Two Democrats talked about adding money to state programs for cities in the Thursday night Mankato forum. The lone Republican said he will not promise to spend more on any state program.” You’ll finally see all the gubernatorial candidates together at a Farmfest forum on August 7th, when — shocker — Greater Minnesota issues will likely take center stage again.

Mankato native Walz continues to tout his ability to bring all of Minnesota together, this time during a campaign stop in Rochester: “I’m not willing to write off any part of the state. I want to win in Minneapolis, St. Paul, north Minneapolis as much as I want to win in Windom, because I think that gives you more of a mandate to get something done,” he says. But as the Rochester Post Bulletin’s Matthew Stolle writes, “a broad-based approach also can involve risks, as primaries tend to be small-turnout affairs in which the most partisan turnout to vote and can tip the scales in an election.”

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Last Tuesday, Pawlenty meandered down to Southeast Minnesota and spoke with Winona business owners about taxes. It’s his first public appearance in the area since declaring his candidacy for governor in April. At the event, the former governor declared, “We are the third highest income taxed state in the country, fifth highest overall tax burden in the country. We have high property taxes, high sales taxes. We should at least get Minnesota out of the top 10. There’s only been one governor who has done that, and he’s talking to you now.” Although the discussion was centered on the state’s burdensome taxes, Pawlenty also talked about health care, education reform, and his track record vs. that of Johnson.

Meanwhile, Johnson visited Mille Lacs Lake on Friday, July 27, to weigh in on a complex, controversial and long-running issue: the 1999 Minnesota Supreme Court decision that forced the state to co-manage the lake with the area’s Indian tribes. The Duluth News Tribune’s Gabriel Lagarde reports, Johnson “plans to replace the leaders of the DNR with outside candidates: people, he noted, who do not have an overt political agenda, but the right qualities to create a culture that’s more service-minded and in service to Minnesota as a whole over individual groups.”

Also: Here are the latest ads from Tim Pawlenty, Jeff Johnson, Tim Walz, Erin Murphy and Lori Swanson.

Attorney General

Even though there hasn’t been a Republican attorney general since 1971, Republican Doug Wardlow remains hopeful he can be the one to break the streak. On Tuesday, July 24th, Wardlow met with supporters from Fillmore, Winona, and Houston counties, and told the Winona Daily News: “I want to take the politics out of the office. Too often, the current attorney general has used the office to sue President Trump. It’s too political, and it’s ignoring the duties of the office.” Wardlow promises to enforce the constitution, along with enforcing immigration law and stopping sanctuary cities.

DFLer Debra Hilstrom tells the Crookston Times, “First I wrote the law, then I protected the law, found where the flaws were and went to Legislature and fixed them.” She echoed the same sentiments at the Pipestone County Star: “I’m uniquely qualified because I’ve written the law and I’ve also defended it in court.” Hilstrom also says she will fight for consumer protection and fight against the opioid crisis as well as wage theft. She’s also got a new ad.

Fellow DFL AG candidate Tom Foley campaigned in Duluth, where he told WDIO that he wants to “promote gun safety and ensure school safety. Foley also said he wants to set up a special unit within the attorney general’s office to help local law enforcement and county attorneys to fully prosecute sexual assault cases in the state.”

Here are the latest ads from Hilstrom and endorsed DFL candidate Matt Pelikan

U.S. Senate

Richard Painter, the former Bush administration ethics lawyer/former Republican who is currently running in the DFL primary against Tina Smith, held a rally at Metro State University, where he sounded off on his big campaign themes: impeaching Trump and opposing the proposed PolyMet mining project in northern Minnesota. Smith says she remains unfazed by Painter’s candidacy, stating, “I am comfortable with the primary and am concentrating on the general election.” As the Forum’s Don Davis wrote, “In a state that came within an eyelash of favoring Republican Trump in 2016, Painter spends nearly all of his time talking about the president. Smith deals with more issues like high-speed internet, economic development and the farm bill, while also discussing Trump.” Lately, Painter has also been in the hot seat with DFL party chair Ken Martin, who accuses Painter of being “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” after Painter wouldn’t declare himself a Democrat in an interview.


Republican Jim Hagedorn visited Winona Daily News, where he talked about pausing Minnesota’s refugee settlement program. He isn’t afraid to declare his support for Trump, he said, but it isn’t blind loyalty since he disagreed with the omnibus spending bill. Also, he said Democrats wanted to transform America into an “European socialist state.” Hagedorn also released a couple of ads recently.

His primary opponent, Carla Nelson, was also out and about. She recently told Mankato’s KEYC-TV that the southern Minnesota district needs, “someone who is more than talk, we need someone who has a track history. A track history of not just talking about the issues, but delivering, that’s me. Then, we need someone who has a track record of winning and winning tough elections, that’s me and that’s why I’m running. The stakes are great, we need a conservative winner and that’s why I’m running.”

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In case you missed the recent debate in Brainerd with all the DFL candidates, here’s a comprehensive look at the discussion from the Brainerd Dispatch. Amid the primary campaign, DFLer Joe Radinovich found some time to propose to former state Rep. Carly Melin, who is now the executive director of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council.