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Is the Minnesota governor’s race over?

The latest Survey USA poll for KSTP television finds Gov. Tim Walz with a commanding 18-point lead over GOP challenger Scott Jensen – 51% to 33%. Walz in this survey prevails among three crucial groups of voters by huge margins – women (58% to 30%), independents (53% to 23%) and suburbanites (47% to 35%).

This is a big change from MinnPost’s early June poll of likely voters by Change Research showing Walz with a narrow 42% to 40% lead over Jensen and an early May KSTP poll of likely voters showing Walz ahead by only 44% to 39%.

This latest survey, conducted from Aug. 30 through Sept. 4, is weighted by gender, age, education and home ownership to reflect the state population and has a margin of error of 4.9% among the 567 likely voters sampled. SurveyUSA’s methods receive an “A” grade from Nate Silver’s 538 analysis site. The site has found no detectable bias toward Democrats and Republicans in the pollster’s surveys.

The partisan breakdown of the survey’s likely voters – 35% GOPers and Democrats and 26% independents, reveals no obvious partisan bias in the respondents. Thirty-five percent of the poll’s likely voters label themselves conservative and 21% liberal.

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One clue to Jensen’s lagging performance can be found in likely voters’ views on abortion. A considerable 68% of likely voters oppose overturning the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. Fully, 40% of likely voters indicate the abortion issue will “very likely” influence their voting in the governor’s race and in that group, Walz lead Jensen by 50 points – 71% to 21%. That finding suggests the Alliance for a Better Minnesota’s media ads attacking Jensen on abortion have proven effective with many voters.

The Jensen campaign also is woefully underfunded. The Walz campaign has outraised Jensen’s by a 10-1 margin and other groups, like the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, are spending considerably on Walz’s behalf. Is the Minnesota governor’s race over? It’s hard to see how Jensen makes this race competitive given how far behind he is in fundraising and poll support.

One clue that campaign messaging is key to Jensen’s lagging performance can be found in the more competitive races GOP candidates are running for their statewide offices as discovered by the survey.

GOP nominee for attorney general, Jim Schulz trails DFL incumbent Keith Ellison by only six points (46% to 40%). DFL Secretary of State Steve Simon has only a four-point lead over Republican nominee Kim Crockett (42% to 38%). The state auditor’s race between DFL incumbent Julie Blaha and GOPer Ryan Wilson is effectively tied with Blaha only leading by a single point at 38% to 37%.

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Steven Schier

The auditor race is the lowest profile of the statewide contests with the least amount of messaging by the campaigns. Its tied result in the poll indicates that Republicans this year are at parity with Democrats statewide absent significant campaign activity, just as they are tied with Democrats among party identifiers in the KSTP survey. Such parity demonstrates the big effect of abundant Democratic campaign messaging in the governor’s race. Campaigns matter.

The challenge for these other Republican statewide aspirants is to succeed while their top of the ticket nominee Jensen remains far behind and greatly underfunded. It may well be that the best GOP prospects in 2022 are for a repeat of the 1998 elections. In that year, Republican gubernatorial candidate Norm Coleman lost to insurgent Jesse Ventura while Republicans nevertheless won the races for secretary of state and state auditor.

This survey suggests that the Minnesota governor’s race was perhaps over before the fall campaigns began. It also raises questions about whether Republicans can win any statewide office in 2022. Will these polling challenges appear for the GOP in Congressional and state legislative races as well? If so, the red wave may turn out to be a red mirage.

Steven Schier is the emeritus Congdon Professor of Political Science at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.

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