With his formal re-election announcement Tuesday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz agrees with his Republican challengers on the No. 1 issue of the campaign:
In a video, “Goal Line Stand,” posted at 6 a.m. Tuesday, Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan tout his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic as evidence of someone “making the tough calls.” And with his ubiquitous football in hand, the DFL governor returned to a sports metaphor to contrast himself with the announced Republican field.
“We’re on offense and we’re making progress, but the same people who blocked us are trying to take us backward,” Walz says in the video, while Flanagan says unnamed Republicans discouraged vaccinations and masking, downplayed the pandemic “and put lives at risk.”
Walz’s re-election bid wasn’t ever in doubt. But he played coy throughout the spring and summer while raising money for a campaign that began well before Tuesday’s declaration. Minnesota doesn’t require statewide candidates to report their fundraising totals at the end of a year when they’re not on the ballot.
Walz had a relatively uneventful first year in office, even reaching a bipartisan agreement on a state budget just days after all had declared an impasse. But 2020 brought both the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, and Walz’s response to the riots and use of the National Guard and state patrol saw him attacked from both the right and the left. And just as vaccines seemed to signal an end to the pandemic — prematurely it turned out — the DFL governor was the poster boy for GOP complaints about governmental overreach.
Much of what Walz did to combat COVID was initially supported but later criticized. Near unanimous support for emergency powers in March of 2020 eventually devolved into another DFL vs. GOP battle. All of which makes the he-made-the-tough-calls narrative a familiar one for a campaign that will be a referendum on the incumbent.
At the same time, parties out of power have their own playbook. And with the campaigns of Republican governor candidates mostly focused on the 2,000 delegates who will decide the GOP endorsement next May, the anti-Walz rhetoric has been ratcheted up on both his response to the pandemic and on law and order.
In the video announcing his bid for governor, released in March, former state Sen. Scott Jensen portrayed Walz as a Dr. Kevorkian-esque character putting a rag soaked with a liquid labeled “emergency powers” over the face of the viewer. “It’s no surprise when the pandemic struck, the politicians struck even harder,” says the ad’s voiceover.
On the campaign website of another GOP candidate, Paul Gazelka, the former state Senate majority leader declares: “It started with Tim Walz’s abuse of executive powers.”
While another Republican candidate, state Sen. Michelle Benson, uses a farming metaphor to explain: “weeds that choked out the good crop had to go,” she says, referencing growing up on a family farm near Murdock. “Tim Walz and the Democrats just don’t get it. And their extreme agenda is dividing us.”
The other declared candidates are no less focused on the first term DFL governor.
“Gov. Walz locked us in our homes, shut down our businesses and forced our kids to wear masks,” says Neil Shah.
Mike Murphy displays “enough is enough” over a grainy video of Walz and Michael Marti doesn’t mention Walz by name but is clear who he is talking about when he states “The overreach of government has never been more evident than the past year. Mandates with no end in sight have ignored our elderly, left our children without an education, and many of you without jobs.”
It is certainly a winning theme to woo state GOP convention delegates. The winner of that contest will get to see if it will work with a statewide electorate.