Minnesota in midterm spotlight as polls tighten

Democrats and Republicans are turning to Minnesota in the waning days before the midterm elections as the parties battle over one of the most evenly divided states in the nation.
Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen, left, and Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, appear at their debate at the studios of KTTC-TV in Rochester, Minn., on Tuesday, Oct. 18. 2022. It was their only scheduled televised debate of the campaign. (Ben Mulholland/Gray Television via AP, Pool)

Democrats and Republicans are turning to Minnesota in the waning days before the midterm elections as the parties battle over one of the most evenly divided states in the nation.

Polls show a tightening race between Gov. Tim Walz (D) and former state Sen. Scott Jensen (R). And the two parties are fighting over a handful of seats in the suburbs outside Minneapolis and St. Paul that will decide who wins gavels in the Republican-controlled state Senate and the Democratic-controlled state House.

Former President Donald Trump is getting involved. Vice President Kamala Harris dropped by. And airwaves will be a little more crowded after the Republican Governors Association committed $750,000 to television time through an affiliate.

“We’ve got a close eye on what’s going on in Minnesota, and some of the Republican donors in that state are also taking notice,” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who’s co-chair of the RGA, said in an interview. “So we think we have every opportunity to finish strong.”

Democratic groups vastly outraised and outspent GOP-aligned organizations in state races through September, according to MinnPost. Updated reports covering much of the final month of the campaign are due next week.

But Republicans are gaining a late advantage, both here and around the country.

Harris headlined a Walz fundraiser in Minneapolis over the weekend. Former Gov. Jesse Ventura, an independent, issued a video endorsement of Walz on Thursday. Trump endorsed Jensen on Wednesday, and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) will stump for Jensen early next week.

“Republican extremists Donald Trump and Kim Reynolds showing their support for Scott Jensen further confirms what we already knew, that Jensen would bring extreme and out-of-touch policies to Minnesota,” Marissa Luna, executive director of the Democratic-aligned group Alliance for a Better Minnesota, said in a statement.

The most recent survey by a nonpartisan pollster, Embold Research, found Walz leading Jensen 47% to 42%. Earlier polls showed the incumbent sporting a wider edge, a hint that Jensen is closing the gap.

Minnesota has a long history of voting for Democratic presidential candidates; the last Republican to win the state was Richard Nixon, in 1972. But that streak masks a more complicated partisan picture at the state level — Democrats have won the last three gubernatorial contests, though they lost the three prior elections, once to Ventura and twice to Republican Tim Pawlenty.

There is no more narrowly divided legislature in America. Democrats hold 69 of 134 seats in the state House, two more than are necessary for a majority. Republicans hold 34 of 67 seats in the state Senate, a one-seat majority.

Party strategists and observers say both parties have a strong chance to win either, or both, chambers. CNalysis, a non-partisan handicapping website, spotlighted critical races in the exurbs around the Twin Cities and in the Iron Range, historically Democratic territory that has shifted toward Republicans in recent years.

“We feel very, very optimistic about taking the majority back,” state House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R) told Pluribus News in a recent interview.

Daudt cited violent crime in Minneapolis and President Biden’s agenda as key issues in state races. Democrats have been unable to make abortion rights a key issue in Minnesota, because those rights are already guaranteed by the state constitution, Daudt said.