Crime. Abortion. Inflation. Trust. Distrust.
Those are some of the words and ideas Minnesotans will hear a lot about in the coming months. Following Tuesday’s primary elections, the stage is set for November’s general election.
Every statewide Minnesota office will be on the ballot: governor and lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general and state auditor. In addition, all 67 seats in the state Senate and all 164 seats in the state House will be on the ballot. So will county boards and other local races.
That’s a lot of politicking.
Every race is different, and political veterans will remind us that voters often vote for people, not just issues. Still, broad themes and issues that cut across wide groups of people will likely come in front of all of us. Here’s some of what we know, now that the primaries are over, and some of what to expect, based on discussions with candidates, campaigns and political insiders.
One takeaway from the primary is that forces of moderation are in play for both parties.
Inside the Republican party, far-right forces are growing in influence, and Tuesday’s results bore that out: A number of Republican primaries resulted in victories for candidates aligning themselves with far-right groups, such as Action4Liberty, over more traditional Republican candidates.
However, there was a limit to that. Five incumbent Republican state lawmakers faced primary challenges from candidates to their right. All those incumbents won. Similarly, an attempt by attorney general candidate Doug Wardlow to campaign against Republican nominee Jim Schultz on the argument that Schultz isn’t conservative enough failed. The takeaway: While far-right voices are growing in Republican ranks, they’re not necessarily running the show.
Intra-Democratic battles between the center of their party and the far-left forces within also played out — and also showed signs of moderate strength. The most visible was the narrowness of the victory for U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-5th. Challenger Don Samuels, who campaigned on a public safety platform that accused Omar of supporting the defund-the-police movement, lost by a mere 2 percentage points. In St. Paul’s East Side, Democrat Liz Lee campaigned on a fairly standard Democratic message and routed state Rep. John Thompson, an outspoken Black Lives Matter activist whose rhetoric, for some of his peers, broke the limits of civility. Thompson had also been bruised by other controversies.
Self-imposed forces of moderation are easily visible in the race for governor and lieutenant governor. Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, Democrats, are facing Republicans Scott Jensen and Matt Birk.
Both campaigns are trying to paint the other as “extreme” — and in reaction, both are trying to protect ground near the center of the ideological spectrum.
Walz, knowing Jensen is attacking him for increases in some violent crimes, has begun holding frequent media briefings to underscore the state response, especially to gang violence in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Walz still supports numerous changes to law enforcement called for by liberals in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, but they are far from the centerpiece of his campaign.
Meanwhile Jensen, who said numerous times he wanted to outlaw abortion with no exceptions to rape survivors — and knew Walz was attacking him for that in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the nationwide right to abortion — recently reversed himself, saying he does support those exceptions. Jensen, like many Republicans running statewide, doesn’t want to make the race a referendum on abortion; years of polling show a consistent majority of Minnesotans support some right to abortion. Instead, Jensen and his surrogates will seek to tie Walz not only to crime, but also to dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden via one of the most-talked-about national issues of the moment: rising prices under near-record inflation.
SECRETARY OF STATE
Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat, is facing a challenge from Republican attorney Kim Crockett.
This race appears headed toward a loud argument about elections, which the secretary of state oversees in Minnesota.
The DFL message is simple: “Kim Crockett can’t be trusted with our elections,” states a DFL website devoted to criticizing her. Crockett has aligned herself with groups and attended events pushing the idea that Donald Trump won the 2020 election, and Democrats want to highlight that.
Crockett, who has thus far not given many interviews to the media, isn’t shying away from strong words, beyond calling for “secure elections” — a Republican phrase that is premised on the idea that election insecurity is a threat. In a recent fundraising email to supporters, she said, “Democrats do not like Voter ID. Why? Because Voter ID stops Democrats from cheating.”
While a large portion of the Minnesota attorney general’s office is charged with civil litigation and consumer protections, expect Attorney General Keith Ellison, a Democrat, to be asked to talk about the office’s criminal division by Schultz, a private investment attorney and political newcomer.
“Keith Ellison and his radical agenda to defund the police have made our communities less safe,” Schultz posted after his primary victory over Wardlow. Schultz was pointing to Ellison’s support for a failed Minneapolis ballot question that asked whether the police department should be replaced. Republicans have long criticized Ellison, a former public defender, for his previous associations with a handful of unsavory characters.
Ellison, meanwhile, has tried to emphasize his office’s civil actions on behalf of Minnesotans, such as its part in a $26 billion settlement with opioid drug makers, as well as his devotion to protecting abortion rights, which are currently guaranteed under a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling. Schultz opposes abortion. Expect DFL-aligned groups to also attack Schultz, 36, for a lack of relevant experience.
To be clear, both men have strong opinions on crime prevention and changes to policing — a relevant topic for a position often described as the state’s top law enforcement official. Ellison argues that gun control should be an essential part of crime prevention strategy, while Schultz argues existing laws should suffice. Schultz has said he would support commuting the sentence of former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter, who fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in 2021. The attorney general is one of three members on the state’s Board of Pardons, which has such power.