Scott Jensen won the Minnesota Republican Party’s endorsement for governor on Saturday, winning his party’s support through a campaign built around opposition to pandemic restrictions and concerns about COVID-19 vaccines.
Delegates gathered at the GOP convention in Rochester picked the former senator and state physician as their first choice to face DFL Governor Tim Walz in November after a heated endorsement fight that began with a crowded field of contenders and featured multiple rounds of voting.
“We have to ask ourselves: how are we going to win? Jensen told the crowd. “This is potentially our last, best chance. We can do this together. … Together, we can absolutely get this message across to Tim Walz: ‘Game over, you’re done.'”
It remains to be seen whether Jensen will face any GOP challengers in the August primary. Party approval usually makes whoever wins it the favorite. Walz enters the race with fundraising that easily outstrips his GOP rivals and the high profile his tenure affords.
Jensen and his running mate Matt Birk, a former Vikings center, beat other candidates vying for the party’s endorsement in a fight that lasted nine ballots. Kendall Qualls received the second highest support from delegates. Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy, who ultimately endorsed Jensen, came in third.
Jensen’s message resonated with the party’s roughly 2,200 activists. Now he must sell it to a wider audience of voters, as he attempts to snap a GOP losing streak in statewide races that dates back to 2008. Jensen and others are trying to seize what looks like a promising year for GOP candidates nationwide. President Joe Biden’s poll results are lagging and the president’s party is historically faring poorly in the midterm elections.
Supporters said Jensen was the most eligible pick.
“I think he has the best chance in November of winning against Governor Walz,” said convention attendee Kyle Christensen, who works in marketing for a health informatics company. “He’s survived all the attacks Democrats and others have thrown at him, so I think he’s been tested.”
Chaska’s family doctor served a term in the Legislative Assembly, where he was considered a moderate. He has worked with Democrats on bills to reduce prescription drug prices and require universal background checks for gun sales and transfers, among other measures. He apologized to delegates on Saturday over gun legislation, saying he had been on the “wrong side” of the issue.
Democratic state Sen. Matt Klein, a doctor from Mendota Heights, took aim at the senator he served with on Capitol Hill during an event Friday on the street from the GOP convention.
“As doctors, we take the Hippocratic oath to do no harm. But for Scott Jensen, it was just another thing he could sacrifice on the altar of his political ambitions,” Klein said. .
“No one has done more than Scott Jensen to convince people that the safe and effective measures we have to prevent and treat COVID-19 are not helpful and that the COVID-19 vaccine is ineffective and dangerous.”
Jensen veered sharply to the right on the campaign trail. On Saturday, he said his top priorities would include rewriting emergency powers legislation — a favorite Republican target during the pandemic — as well as pushing for constitutional law on gun ownership and voter identification laws. If elected, Jensen said, the Metropolitan Council is “stepping down” and he would seriously consider scrapping personal income tax.
Jensen reiterated his suggestion that Secretary of State Steve Simon should be jailed for his handling of the state’s election — there have been no allegations that Simon committed any crime — and in his speech, he adopted unproven fringe ideas about voting for the dead. He said in his first month he would commute the sentence of former central Brooklyn police officer Kim Potter for his shooting death of Daunte Wright, although governors do not have the power unilaterally commute sentences.
During the election campaign, Jensen often focused on the pandemic, condemning Walz’s executive decisions and calling for “civil disobedience” among Minnesotans in response to any remaining mask policies and vaccine demands. .
He joined a case in federal court to suspend COVID-19 vaccinations for children and said he was not vaccinated because he had natural immunity to past infection. His comments raising concerns about COVID-19 vaccines on Fox News and social media thrust him into the national spotlight.
Jensen was one of the first candidates to enter the gubernatorial race and became an early frontrunner, drastically outpacing other Republicans last year.
His campaign poured money into the approval battle. Jensen and Birk had their names and the campaign logo printed on hotel room keys near the Civic Center and created mock jerseys that they sold for $50 at the convention. On Friday night, they held a large outdoor afterparty, where a long line stretched across the block to get in and the crowd ate, drank and danced in front of a DJ under fairy lights.
While Jensen attracted the most money last year, Qualls, who entered the race in January, received more in the first quarter of 2022. Army veteran and former Medina health executive Qualls quickly gained a solid footing. He lost to U.S. Representative Dean Phillips in the 2020 race for the third congressional district by 11 percentage points. He has never held elected office and presented himself as a political outsider.
For convention delegate Patrick Staley, who wore a Qualls shirt, it was a key selling point.
“As an outsider, he has a chance to reach out and probably add people to the Republican coalition who may not have looked our way in the past,” Staley said.
Qualls on Saturday accused Democrats of “turning Minnesota into the next California,” to boos from the crowd.
“I’m going to be Joe Biden and Tim Walz’s worst nightmare…because I’m living proof that the American dream is alive and well,” he said. “Everyone in this boardroom wants to beat Tim Walz. With your help, I’m the only candidate who can do it.”
Alongside Murphy, dermatologist and first-time candidate Neil Shah, longtime Senator Paul Gazelka and former Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek squared off to challenge Walz. Murphy briefly led the pack in the delegate vote on Saturday as they fought their way through numerous rounds of voting, but he helped the tide turn in Jensen’s favor when he backed the doctor and qualified Qualls for “sellout”.
Stanek, who suffered injuries from a car accident in April, was not at the convention. A large banner reading “Get well soon Rich!” hung in the Civic Center, where the walls and bleachers were covered with signs from the countryside. Stanek’s campaign said he was weighing his options.
The governor’s race was the last of four rounds of nominations, with Republicans on Friday choosing Jim Schultz for attorney general, Kim Crockett for secretary of state and Ryan Wilson for state auditor. Schultz, a 36-year-old political newcomer who grew up in South Haven and went to Harvard Law School, defeated Doug Wardlow, who was making his second run for attorney general. But Wardlow hinted on social media on Saturday that he may not be out of the running.
“I’m touched by your support,” Wardlow posted on Facebook. “Don’t throw away your signs yet.”
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