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Election Day is Tuesday: Governor, Legislature and 3 other offices on Minnesota ballot

This year, Minnesota Republicans appear to have their best shot at winning a statewide election for the first time in over a decade in the race for attorney general, but many of the contests, such as for control over the Senate and House of Representatives, remain up in the air. Core issues candidates have campaigned on in 2022 include crime, abortion rights and inflation.

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"I voted" stickers scattered on a table near a dish with pens that needed to be sanitized on Nov. 3, 2020, at the Miners Memorial Building in Virginia, Minnesota.
File / Duluth News Tribune
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ST. PAUL — Minnesotans will head to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 8, to decide who will head the state’s top offices for the next four years as well as who will control the Legislature and the state’s eight congressional seats.

This year, Minnesota Republicans appear to have their best shot at winning a statewide election for the first time in over a decade in the race for attorney general, but many of the contests, such as for control over the Senate and House of Representatives, remain up in the air. Core issues candidates have campaigned on in 2022 include crime, abortion rights and inflation.

Spotlight on AG race

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Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (right) is being challenged by Republican Jim Schultz.
Schultz photo by Dana Ferguson of Forum News Service; Ellison photo by Jean Pieri of the Pioneer Press

The race with the greatest potential to disrupt the status quo in Minnesota politics appears to be the contest for attorney general , where DFLer Keith Ellison is facing a challenge from political newcomer Jim Schultz. In that race, Schultz, a 37-year-old investment attorney, has tried to characterize Ellison as anti-police, while Ellison has painted his opponent as a threat to abortion rights and a Trojan horse for corporate interests.

No Republican has won statewide office since 2006, and the DFL has held on to the attorney general’s office for half a century. Polling has placed the two candidates neck-and-neck, though a Nov. 1 poll from KSTP/SurveyUSA showed Schultz leading by 7% . In 2018 Republican candidate Doug Wardlow lost to Ellison by 4%.

Schultz has tried to keep the focus on crime, which surged in Minnesota in the last two years. Ellison, who national observers have described as “Minnesota’s most vulnerable progressive,” has questioned Schultz's assertion that the office can play a central role in prosecuting crime statewide, and has touted his record as a consumer advocate. He says Schultz’s plan to move attorneys from the office’s consumer division to the criminal division will weaken the attorney general’s mission to be what he calls the “people’s lawyer.”

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Governor

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Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and former Minnesota Sen. Scott Jensen
John Autey and Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press

At the top of the ballot is the gubernatorial race, where Democratic-Farmer-Labor Gov. Tim Walz is seeking a second term in face of a challenge from Republican nominee Scott Jensen, a family practice physician and former state senator who rose to prominence last year as a skeptic of COVID-19 precautions.

In that race, Jensen has attempted to blame Walz for rising crime and has criticized the governor’s response to COVID-19, which included lockdown orders in 2020. Jensen has pledged to fight government waste and fraud before increasing spending, and floated eliminating individual income tax, something Walz and others have said would cripple funding for many programs. Jensen has also said Walz did not react soon enough to unrest following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020.

In their most recent debate , Walz contrasted what he called Jensen’s “dark, pessimistic, negative view of the state” with what he called his own optimistic vision. The first-term Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor touted record-low unemployment, a historic $9.3 billion budget surplus and said he would seek to spend more on education and other investments in the state’s future. He stood by his decisions during the worst of the pandemic, and by his administration’s response to 2020 civil unrest.

Abortion is front and center in races across the country following the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade in June, and Walz has positioned himself as a staunch supporter of abortion rights. Jensen, who earlier this year said he would try to ban abortion but later clarified he supported exceptions in the case of rape and incest, said abortion remains constitutionally protected in Minnesota and is not an issue in the race.

A mid-October Trafalgar Group poll placed Jensen at a half-percent advantage over Walz, but the governor has enjoyed a lead in almost all other polls released in 2022, including the Nov. 1 KSTP poll which put 8 points between the candidates.

Besides Jensen and Walz, there are four other candidates on the ballot : James McCaskel with Legal Marijuana Now, Independence-Alliance candidate Hugh McTavish, Socialist Workers Party candidate Gabrielle Prosser and Steve Patterson with Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis.

ELECTION 2022:
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.

Legislature

The Minnesota House chamber is packed with state representatives and senators Wednesday night, Feb. 22, 2017, gathered to elect University of Minnesota regents. Don Davis / Forum News Service
The Minnesota House chamber is packed with state representatives and senators Wednesday night, Feb. 22, 2017, who gathered to elect University of Minnesota regents.
Don Davis / Forum News Service

The balance of power in the Minnesota Legislature is also at stake on Tuesday, with all 201 Senate and House seats up for election. Currently, Republicans control 34 of 67 Senate seats and the DFL has 69 seats in the house, six more than the GOP. Most of the 134 House and 67 Senate seats are safely within the grasp of either party, but a few dozen competitive races could be key.

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While suburbs have shifted toward favoring Democrats in recent elections, the northeast’s Iron Range has become significantly redder over the past decade, giving Republicans hopes that they’ll be able to pick up seats there. There will also be closer races in regional centers like Rochester and St. Cloud.

If Republicans manage to take control of both the Senate and the House, they’ll be able to move forward with many legislative priorities, such as spending cuts, tax cuts and stiffening penalties for crime, without needing to compromise with DFLers.

If Walz remains in the governor’s office, he could veto many bills a Republican-controlled Legislature would send to his desk. However, GOP lawmakers could send the question of abortion directly to voters by placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot in the next election.

Members of the Minnesota House face election every two years. Senators face election every four years, except in years that end in the number zero, when they are elected to two-year terms. The shorter terms coincide with the once-a-decade redistricting process.

Secretary of State

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Secretary of State Steve Simon, left, and Kim Crockett are seen in this composite photo.
Contributed

The election for Minnesota secretary of state has garnered considerably more attention this year, as a DFL incumbent who has touted his work to expand voter participation faces a Republican challenger skeptical of the results of the 2020 election and the integrity of the state's election system.

DFLer Steve Simon, who is running for his third term as secretary of state, has spent much of his time on the campaign trail trying to dispel myths about the election system and boosting confidence in Minnesota election administration. GOP challenger Kim Crockett is running largely on the premise that the current election system is vulnerable to fraud and manipulation.

Crockett and Simon have polled close to one another, but Simon has mostly enjoyed a lead.

Auditor

State Auditor Julie Blaha (left) and GOP challenger Ryan Wilson (right)
State Auditor Julie Blaha (left) and GOP challenger Ryan Wilson.
Contributed

DFLer Julie Blaha is seeking another term as state auditor, the office tasked with overseeing about $60 billion in taxes and spending by thousands of local government agencies across Minnesota. Her GOP opponent is Ryan Wilson, a former CEO of an auditing firm that specializes in clinical trials.

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A unique issue that has emerged in this year’s race is a debate over the auditor’s role on the State Board of Investment, a panel that oversees $130 billion in assets, including state pension funds. Wilson has criticized Blaha for her support of considering the potential effects of climate change on investment returns, something that other Republicans have started turning into a campaign issue in other states.

Wilson says it should be up to the Legislature to make those kinds of choices — lawmakers voted to divest from Russia when the country invaded Ukraine earlier this year. Blaha has stood by her position that the state should divest from assets like fossil fuels, as in the long term as they could lead to losses due to climate change. She said it's a financial decision rather than a political one, pointing out that Wall Street investment firms also account for climate risk in their investment decisions.

Congress

Don’t expect any major shakeups in Minnesota’s representation in Washington, where the state has four representatives from each major party. Polling shows all but one of Minnesota’s eight congressional districts heavily favor the incumbent candidate. Members of the House of Representatives face election every two years.

All the Republicans in the state’s three mostly rural districts are expected to hold onto their seats: Michelle Fischbach in western Minnesota’s 7th District, Pete Stauber in the northeast’s 8th District, and Brad Finstad in the southern 1st District. Finstad won a special election for the 1st District seat in August and is completing the term of late Republican Congressman Jim Hagedorn.

Democrats are all but guaranteed victories in their urban Twin Cities strongholds. Rep. Ilhan Omar is projected to win in the 5th District, which includes the city of Minneapolis. Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum is heavily favored to win another term in the 4th District, which includes St. Paul and some surrounding suburbs.

An exception is Minnesota’s 2nd District, which covers the southern Twin Cities suburbs and neighboring rural areas. There, Democratic Rep. Angie Craig is defending her seat against Republican challenger Tyler Kistner, who she defeated in the 2020 election. Despite being historically competitive, most polls lean toward Craig holding on to her seat.

Dean Phillips, a Democrat who represents the west metro's suburban 3rd District, is expected to win as is Tom Emmer, a Republican representing the 6th District, which includes St. Cloud and northwest Twin Cities suburbs.

Turnout?

As of late this week, more than 451,992 Minnesotans had already cast absentee ballots in the general election. The number of Minnesota voters casting their ballots by mail is expected to be significantly lower than in 2020, when 58% of ballots were cast by mail. Absentee ballots are counted at the same time as all other ballots.

Voter turnout is typically lower during midterm elections. In the 2020 presidential election, nearly 3.3 million Minnesotans cast a ballot — close to 80% of eligible voters. In 2018, the last midterm, about 2.6 million cast a ballot, 64% of eligible voters. Minnesota typically boasts some of the highest voter turnout rates in the nation and led the U.S. in 2020.

Polls on Election Day in Minnesota close at 8 p.m. The deadline for voter registration was Oct. 18, but Minnesota voters can register at the polls on the day of the election. They can also register at early voting locations. For more information, visit the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website.

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