Minnesota’s Walz seeks 2nd term against vax skeptic Jensen

Nov 8, 2022, 2:00 AM | Updated: 2:06 am
FILE - Gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen debates incumbent governor Tim Walz in the third and fi...

FILE - Gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen debates incumbent governor Tim Walz in the third and final gubernatorial debate at the Fitzgerald Theater, Oct. 28, 2022, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Nicole Neri, File)

(AP Photo/Nicole Neri, File)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Democrat Tim Walz sought a second term as Minnesota’s governor Tuesday against Republican Scott Jensen, a family physician who first grabbed attention with his vaccine skepticism before hammering Walz on economic and crime issues during the fall campaign.

Jensen was hoping to break the Democratic Party’s 12-year grip on the office. The last time a Minnesota Republican won statewide office was in 2006, when Gov. Tim Pawlenty was reelected.

Walz, a former congressman and high school football coach, led Minnesota through the COVID-19 pandemic — including lockdowns, school shutdowns and business closures — as well as the sometimes-violent unrest that followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020.

Walz found ways to work with the divided Minnesota Legislature during his first year as governor in 2019, but his relations with the Senate GOP majority deteriorated over how he used emergency powers to impose pandemic restrictions without legislative approval. By this year’s session, Walz and House Democrats were unable to agree with GOP lawmakers over how to spend most of a $9 billion budget surplus.

Walz made his support for abortion rights a centerpiece of his campaign after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Roe v. Wade decision.

Jensen supported a complete abortion ban early in the race, but then softened his position after coming under fire following the high court’s ruling. He eventually said he would accept exceptions for rape, incest and the life or health of the mother. But he argued that abortion wasn’t on the ballot — something Walz strongly disputed — and sought to draw voters’ attention instead to inflation and the rise in crime that followed Floyd’s murder.

He also blamed Walz for a massive $250 million fraud in a food aid program meant to feed schoolchildren during the pandemic, saying his administration missed chances to stop the fraud far sooner.

Jensen had a reputation as a sometimes-moderate maverick from suburban Chaska during his one term in the Minnesota Senate. But he veered sharply to the right in the early days of the pandemic, not only criticizing the Walz administration’s response but also flirting with questionable treatments and the anti-vax movement.

Jensen also suggested that Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon might be jailed for his running of the state’s election system, despite no evidence of problems with state elections.

Jensen added a well-known name to his ticket when he picked former NFL center Matt Birk as his running mate. The former Minnesota Viking is a staunch abortion opponent and social conservative.

Walz stuck with close advisor Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and former state representative, who’s popular with the progressive wing of their party and communities of color. She’s the country’s highest-ranking Native American woman elected to executive office.

___

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              FILE - Democratic Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz delivers his third State of the State address in Mankato, Minn., March 28, 2021. (Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP, Pool, File)
            
              FILE - Gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen debates incumbent governor Tim Walz in the third and final gubernatorial debate at the Fitzgerald Theater, Oct. 28, 2022, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Nicole Neri, File)
            FILE - Incumbent Governor Tim Walz debates gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen in the third and final gubernatorial debate at the Fitzgerald Theater, Oct. 28, 2022, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Nicole Neri, File) Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen rallies supporters on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022, inside the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota. Both Jensen and Democratic incumbent Gov. Tim Walz held Capitol rallies as they launched their final sprints to Election Day. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski)

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Minnesota’s Walz seeks 2nd term against vax skeptic Jensen