Gov. Tim Walz won a second term Tuesday after a campaign that culminated in contrasts, with Walz leading in the polls amid a national mood that seemed to favor the GOP.
Walz, a former congressman from the state’s southern-most district, defeated GOP nominee Scott Jensen, a maverick state senator and family physician who became a pandemic questioner with a national following. An expensive ad blitz by DFL-associated political committees painted Jensen as an extremist on abortion and taxes.
The counterpunch against Walz – similar to the national GOP strategy – was centered on crime and inflation and aimed at suburban voters who swing between GOP and DFL candidates depending on the issues of each election.
It didn’t appear to work.
Walz captured similar percentages of the vote in the suburbs as he did in 2018 when he lacked a record as governor and when Democrats dominated statewide races.
A slower-than-usual vote count left Walz with 52.7% to Jensen’s 44.2% as of 12:53 a.m. In 2018, he bested Jeff Johnson 53.8% to 42.4%.
“Well Minnesota, democracy is alive and well in this state. Well done,” Walz told the crowd gathered in a downtown St. Paul hotel. “Tonight we’ve chosen democracy, we’ve chosen to trust women, we’ve chosen to invest in our children, we’ve chosen to address climate change, and we’ve made it loud and clear: As long as this administration is in this office, this is a union state.”
Quipped Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan: “I am so grateful to be standing here before you because this state voted like it was 2022 and not 1952.”
An early indication that the suburban vote was not going to swing heavily toward Republicans came in the race for Hennepin County attorney. Mary Moriarty easily topped Martha Holton Dimick who tried to portray Moriarty, a former public defender, as soft on crime. It is the same message that the GOP used in the campaigns for governor and attorney general, apparently without as much success as they would need to overcome the DFL advantage in urban areas.
“I want to be very clear,” Walz said. “There is no red wave, and we are coming. We are coming!”
Walz thanked Jensen and his running mate Matt Birk for running and said “let’s join together to solve Minnesota’s problems.”
Jensen conceded in a second appearance before remaining supporters at a party in St. Louis Park. “We would have loved to have been victorious. We thought we should be victorious. We thought we spoke to the issues that could really be effected by this election,” he said.
“Tim Walz is the governor for four more years. Republicans, quite frankly, didn’t have a red wave. There was a blue wave. And we need to stop, we need to recalibrate, we need to ask ourselves what can we learn from this, what can we do better, how do we go forward,” Jensen added.
Earlier, Jensen suggested that his campaign would continue after this election is decided. He asked supporters to imagine what the race would have been like had they not come together to talk about crime and education and the response to the pandemic.
“Everybody in this room has come beside Matt Birk and Scott Jensen and our entire team and said we’re not going to imagine such a world, because we’re going to demand that we help shape the conversation,” Jensen said. “We have done that. We have shaped the conversation.
“We don’t know what’s yet to come … but if it isn’t for this time around, it may be the next time,” Jensen said. “But regardless, we cannot imagine not having that powerful voice that represents a movement.”
Walz campaigned on how he helped the state through a period of pandemic and civic unrest and that there were better times ahead. Jensen said Walz mishandled riots following the murder of George Floyd and overreacted to the pandemic.
The incumbent spoke to that Tuesday.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done together these last four years. We’re going to do this work without a global pandemic,” he said of the next four years.
Walz won his first term in 2018 after relatively easy wins in the DFL primary and the general election against then-Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson. But he never had a DFL-controlled Legislature to work with, forcing shared power with a state Senate that was narrowly but effectively controlled by Republicans.
Still, he was part of a triumvirate that reached bipartisan budget deals in 2019 and 2021. That pattern fell apart in 2022 when a GOP Senate and DFL House ultimately broke apart on how to spend a record surplus.
But Walz’s first term will likely be remembered for two crises that happened concurrently: the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd that was followed by civic unrest both locally and globally.
Jensen was considered a maverick during his first and only term in the state Senate from Chaska. While he was a loyal vote for GOP leadership when it mattered, Jensen was willing to work with DFLers on issues important to him including the opioid crisis, the cost of insulin and the regulation of drug-price middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers.
But Jensen ended up apologizing at the GOP convention for his willingness to have conversations over gun safety legislation. And his campaign for governor was shaped more by the COVID-19 and the government’s response than a propensity to work across the partisan aisle. Jensen became an icon of the movement to resist government restrictions and question the directions of public health officials, something aided by the bedside manner of the family physician.
Minnesota last elected a Republican for governor in 2006 when Tim Pawlenty won a second term. But even that election signaled a trend toward the DFL winning statewide races while dividing legislative power with the GOP. The three other statewide races went to the DFL, two by challengers topping Republican incumbents.
MinnPost reporter Ava Kian and freelancer Ava Ewald contributed to this report.