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Abortion, crime are key themes as GOP candidates square off in attorney general primary

The two candidates in the Republican primary for attorney general are political newcomer Jim Schultz and 2018 candidate Doug Wardlow. Incumbent Keith Ellison is the likely DFL nominee.

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Republican candidates for Minnesota attorney general Doug Wardlow, left, and Jim Shultz, right.
Contributed photos
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ST. PAUL — Two major candidates continue to jockey for the nomination in the Republican primary for Minnesota attorney general. The campaign has been dominated by themes of crime and the debate over abortion rights. Incumbent Keith Ellison is the likely DFL nominee in the Tuesday, Aug. 9, primary election.

The two candidates in the Republican primary for attorney general are political newcomer Jim Schultz and 2018 candidate Doug Wardlow. Schultz won the Minnesota GOP endorsement at the state party convention in May , which Wardlow had initially pledged to honor. A few days after the convention, Wardlow announced he would run in the primary against Schultz , claiming he had been denied the nomination by political insiders and “Republicans in name only.” Minnesota Republicans typically honor the party endorsement at their state convention.

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After greeting door-knocking supporters at North Commons Park in Minneapolis, Keith Ellison answered questions from the media on Friday, Aug. 17, 2018.
Jean Pieri / St. Paul Pioneer Press

As Minnesota’s top legal officer, the attorney general represents the state and its agencies in lawsuits, enforces consumer protection and antitrust laws and regulates charities. The office takes consumer complaints and can use its power to prosecute businesses that violate the law. It also assists smaller jurisdictions with fewer resources in prosecuting serious crimes.

Schultz, 36, is an investment firm attorney running for office for the first time. Wardlow, who is 44 and serves as general counsel for Mike Lindell’s MyPillow company, unsuccessfully challenged then-Congressman Ellison in the 2018 race for attorney general.

Both Republicans hail from Twin Cities metro-area suburbs and have styled themselves as “law-and-order” candidates . They claim Ellison has not done enough to tackle a rise in violent crime. Schultz’s campaign says he hopes to “make Minnesota safe again. He has the endorsement of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association.

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Abortion is also a significant issue in the race for Minnesota attorney general, particularly following the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade in June, which ended nearly 50 years of federal abortion protections. The right to an abortion remains constitutionally protected in Minnesota under the 1995 state Supreme Court decision Doe v. Gomez , rendering the state a virtual island in the Upper Midwest for legal abortion.

In July, a Ramsey County District Court Judge further expanded abortion rights in Minnesota by blocking existing laws including a 24-hour wait period and requirement for minors to disclose and obtain consent from both parents in order to get an abortion. Ellison declined to appeal the district court decision, meaning the ruling will remain in place. The state had 60 days to file an appeal in the ruling.

Both Schultz and Wardlow are strong opponents of abortion, though Wardlow has been significantly more vocal on the issue. At a July 27 news conference at the state Capitol, Wardlow told reporters he would “make war” on the Gomez precedent and would use the office of attorney general to target abortion providers.

“I want the abortion industry to take notice. From the first day that I take office until the last day, their activities will be investigated with the strictest scrutiny,” he said. “The full resources of the Attorney General's Office will be brought to bear against abortion.”

Schultz, who has served on the board of an anti-abortion nonprofit, said he supports a ban on the procedure after 20 weeks, but would not use the office of attorney general to pursue further restrictions on the procedure , the Star Tribune reported.

2022 ELECTION:
While results still need to be certified, Minnesota was just one of three states to top the 60% mark, along with Wisconsin and Maine, according to the U.S. Election Project.

Ellison, meanwhile, has vowed to protect abortion rights in Minnesota. Ahead of the Supreme Court’s June decision on Roe, Ellison said he would protect women seeking abortions in Minnesota from prosecution and lawsuits from states where abortion is illegal. He has also described himself as a leader for criminal justice reform. Ellison’s office successfully prosecuted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd as well as Brooklyn Center officer Kim Potter in the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright.

Like Gov. Tim Walz, Secretary of State Steve Simon and Auditor Julie Blaha, Attorney General Ellison had no challengers for the DFL endorsement at the state party convention . Ellison will appear with candidate Bill Dahn on the primary ballot.

Sharon Anderson, who has run for various offices over the decades, is also on the GOP ballot.

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The Attorney General’s Office has been held by the DFL since 1971.

Secretary of state

Kim Crockett, former vice president and general counsel for the Center of the American Experiment, a conservative think tank, is the Republican endorsed candidate for secretary of state. She’s a critic of DFL incumbent Steve Simon for his expansion of absentee and mail-in ballot access in the 2020 election.

Erik Van Mechelen, who did not seek the GOP endorsement at the state party convention, is challenging Crockett in the primary.

Simon, who says he hopes to expand Minnesota’s nation-leading voter turnout through efforts to encourage greater trust in the election system, will appear on the primary ballot with Steve Carlson.

Auditor

There is no primary in the race for state auditor, the official tasked with overseeing the finances of local governments in Minnesota. The DFL-endorsed candidate is incumbent Julie Blaha. Republicans are backing Ryan Wilson in that race.

RELATED
The last remaining DFLer in the Minnesota House who would oppose codifying abortion protections into law appears to be Winona Rep. Gene Pelowski.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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