At the Minnesota Republican convention in Rochester on Saturday, the gubernatorial candidates spoke at length about their priorities for tackling crime, reducing abortion access, changing election law and relaxing gun regulations.
But another common theme among the candidates and their supporters was eligibility, particularly their case to win more votes in DFL-friendly Minneapolis, St. Paul and surrounding suburbs, where many voters don’t support the same policies as Republican candidates. described in their speeches. .
The GOP is strong in Greater Minnesota, but has struggled in much of the Twin Cities metro area, particularly since Trump’s election in 2016. It’s a central reason the party hasn’t won a gubernatorial race. , or any elected office statewide, since Tim Pawlenty. did in 2006.
The roughly 2,200 Republican delegates endorsed Scott Jensen, a one-term state senator from Chaska and a family physician, for the top spot after nine dramatic rounds of voting. Amid that fierce endorsement fight, state Sen. Julia Coleman, R-Waconia, introduced Jensen to the crowd by saying he helped her win a key demographic in a 2020 legislative race.
“He’s brought women out into the suburbs like I’ve never seen before,” Coleman said.
“You are white, you are old.”
The GOP’s statewide losing streak was top of mind for many at the convention. The party even played a video for the crowd multiple times arguing that backing one candidate rather than relying on a lengthy primary race will help the party unite, centralize resources and better prepare to face Gov. Tim Walz.
“Winning a statewide election in Minnesota is hard, we don’t have to make it harder than it already is,” the video says.
One gubernatorial candidate, Neil Shah, a Twin Cities dermatologist, criticized other candidates, including Jensen, for being too accommodating on issues like gun regulations and a governor’s ability to use emergency powers, topics that are often popular. in urban areas. And Shah opened the day by telling the crowd that the DFL has been “emptying the inner city for decades”, “taking fathers out of homes, replacing them with gangs, crime and drugs and doing nothing about it”.
But he said the party should emulate Donald Trump, who Shah said historically did well in those communities because, in his view, Trump was honest, authentic and not pandering like other longtime politicians. (Trump won 17.6 percent of the 2020 presidential vote in the 5th congressional district that includes Minneapolis and much of Hennepin County, which is far worse than Mitt Romney’s 24 percent in 2012. But Trump won more total votes in some big cities like Philadelphia and Detroit than in 2016).
“The same tired talking points we’ve been using for the last 70 years are not going to make it on CD 4 and 5,” Shah said. “We need someone who will have honest conversations and bring capital into those areas, and give those people the jobs they need, secure their streets and improve their schools. I am the only candidate who can do that.”
2018 Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson won 30.5% of the vote in the 4th Congressional District and just 18% of the vote in the 5th District.
Another candidate, state Sen. Paul Gazelka, a Republican from East Gull Lake who was previously the Senate majority leader, said he would have a broad conservative agenda as governor that included permanent tax cuts and putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot. to override a state Supreme Court. Court ruling confirming access to abortion. But during the campaign, Gazelka said Republicans should focus on just two issues that are most popular.
“It is the crime and it is the economy”, Gazelka. “Think of all the purchasing power lost. Think about the fact that you can’t even buy formula right now. That’s Tim Walz and Joe Biden. We can win in a wave in November on these two issues.”
Army veteran and former business executive Kendall Qualls campaigned with a strong focus on his background as a black Republican who grew up poor in Harlem and in a trailer park in Oklahoma. He said Democrats did not stop crime or rioting after the killing of George Floyd and that they fear a “proud black man who draws his identity from God and family from him because of the color of his skin.”
Qualls lives in the suburban Hennepin County town of Medina and ran for Congress against U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips in the largely suburban 3rd congressional district in 2020, when he got about 44 percent of the vote. Trump got 39 percent in the district that year.
Gazelka ultimately endorsed Qualls after falling through the delegates. He told the crowd that if they were going to pick an “outside candidate,” they should “pick someone who can really broaden our base.”
Mike Murphy, the mayor of the small Anoka County town of Lexington, vowed never to compromise, surrender or retreat from his principles, saying he hoped to make Minnesota a “sanctuary” state free of COVID-19 regulations. such as mask mandates or vaccine mandates from public or private employers. He also falsely claimed that US Rep. Ilhan Omar stole the 2020 election in her running mate Lacy Johnson’s 5th congressional district. (Johnson lost by more than 153,000 votes.)
But Johnson, a black man, argued that he could win over voters where he lives on the north side of Minneapolis. He said Democratic policies “made us weak and created a culture of dependency and poverty,” leaving people with bad schools, destroying families and alienating residents from God.
“When we consider what we’re up against, we’re going to have to change those votes,” Johnson said. “The way we’re going to change those votes is by changing their lives and making their lives better.”
Later in the convention, when it became clear that Murphy did not have enough support to win the endorsement, Johnson criticized the crowd of delegates, saying the GOP needs a more diverse base and can’t “keep doing what they’re doing.” .
“Look around you, this is what the Republican Party looks like,” Johnson said.
The crowd cheered before Johnson continued: “You’re white, you’re old.”
Johnson said delegates “do not appreciate what it takes for a person who has voted Democrat his whole life to walk into that booth and vote Republican. It is much more difficult than you think.
“I had this crazy idea that if I showed the GOP that it didn’t have to be this way, you guys would appreciate it and support me,” Johnson said.
Delegates had the opportunity to choose one of four tickets, including a person of color or a woman. But IIn the end, they sided with Jensen, who chose former Vikings center Matt Birk as his running mate. Jensen’s campaign repeatedly highlighted polls that showed him trailing Walz by narrower margins than his Republican competitors among voters.
“It draws the biggest crowds, it has raised the most money and, in independent polls, Scott Jensen is the closest to beating Tim Walz,” said Marty Seifert, a former Republican House Minority Leader.
Birk tried to bolster the credibility of the bid in the Twin Cities by saying he has been “downtown” since 2002 working with disadvantaged children through his Hike Foundation.
“I’m still there,” Birk said.
Jensen may still face Rich Stanek, the three-term former Hennepin County sheriff, who did not seek GOP endorsement on Saturday, in a primary. Stanek has campaigned on a promise to reduce crime in the state, particularly in the Twin Cities and its suburbs. And he argues that he is the only candidate who has won voters in Hennepin County.
“I have a real connection with people here in the 3rd and 5th congressional districts because I am one of them,” Stanek said in a campaign video.