By STEVE KARNOWSKI
ROCHESTER, Minn. (AP) — Business executive Kendall Qualls took the lead Saturday as Minnesota Republicans rallied to endorse a candidate who will challenge Democratic Gov. Tim Walz in the November election.
Qualls, who would become the state party’s first black gubernatorial candidate if he wins the endorsement, took the lead on the fourth ballot and widened his margin to 42% on the fifth. Dr. Scott Jensen, a vaccine skeptic and former state senator who led the first two votes, got 35%. Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy, who took a slim lead on the third ballot, fell to third place with 22%. A candidate needs 60% to claim support.
All had pledged to honor the party’s endorsement and waive the right to run in the Republican primary on Aug. 9, assuming there was no deadlock. Former President Donald Trump, who remains a powerful force within the party, has not endorsed anyone in the Minnesota races.
The 2,200 delegates had to complete their work by 6:00 p.m. Saturday to vacate the Rochester Mayo Civic Center, but Friday’s relatively quick and seamless electronic voting process appeared to reduce the chances of running out of time and leaving without backing. . Delegates and party leaders hope at least one of their candidates will become the first Republican elected to statewide office since Gov. Tim Pawlenty was re-elected in 2006.
Qualls highlighted his rise from poverty, to going to college, to becoming an army officer and business leader. He said his life is a testament to the failure of the Democratic agenda and shows that the American dream lives on.
“The radical left thinks I shouldn’t be here. The media doesn’t think I should be here. Tim Walz wishes he wasn’t here at all,” Qualls said to loud applause. “And poor Joe Biden, he tells people who look like me that I’m not black, that we’re not black, that we didn’t vote for him. Well, after voting for Donald J. Trump for president, both times, and I’m still black. And I’m still a Republican. And I’m going to be Joe Biden and Tim Walz’s worst nightmare.”
Former Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, a state senator from East Gull Lake who emphasized his support for law enforcement, dropped out after the third vote and endorsed Qualls. Sen. Michelle Benson of Ham Lake, who had been a candidate but dropped out before the convention, joined Gazelka in endorsing Qualls.
Jensen, a family doctor from Chaska, was the first to start the race and raised the most money. He garnered a national following by framing his skepticism about the COVID-19 vaccine, and his opposition to mask mandates and school and business closures, as support for medical freedom. He emphasized in his speech his efforts as a state senator to oppose the Walz administration’s handling of the pandemic.
“Everyone in this room has understood on some level that Tim Walz has failed. He has finished. But who will step forward? Who will serve for the benefit, safety and protection of all the people? Who is going to help Minnesota find its way back to being the bright and shining North Star? Jensen asked in a video that precedes his speech. “The answer is you.”
Murphy, the mayor of Lexington, a small suburb northwest of Minneapolis, criticized Walz for both his handling of the pandemic and the sometimes destructive riots that followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020.
“When Walz shut us down, locked us out of our churches and masked our kids, I banned it from my city and shut it down making my community a sanctuary city of health freedom, free from all the COVID nonsense,” Murphy said. “When Walz and (President Joe) Biden attacked our Second Amendment, I stood up for it in my community by declaring my city a Second Amendment Sanctuary City and I will do it for the state.”
On the fourth ballot Friday night, the convention endorsed business lawyer Jim Schultz for attorney general, an office Minnesota Republicans haven’t won since 1968. He hopes to oust incumbent Keith Ellison, a former congressman who led the prosecution that won the murder conviction. of former officer Derek Chauvin in Floyd’s death.
Schultz defeated Doug Wardlow, who was the party’s 2018 candidate and is general counsel for MyPillow. That company’s CEO, Mike Lindell, has risen to national fame for perpetuating the false claim that Trump won the 2020 election. Former Washington County Judge Tad Jude and attorney Lynne Torgerson also lost. Former lawmaker Dennis Smith plans to challenge Schultz in the Republican primary.