What’s at stake in Minnesota’s primary election

Published 6:15 am Tuesday, August 9, 2022

By Brian Bakst, Minnesota Public Radio News

Minnesota is set to learn Tuesday who its newest member of Congress is, bringing the state’s eight-person delegation back to full strength after nearly six months with a vacancy.

The special election to replace the late Rep. Jim Hagedorn is a feature contest on a primary election day that will help finalize November’s ballot for other marquee races. Key primaries to watch include the Republican contest for attorney general and DFL primaries against congressional incumbents Betty McCollum and Ilhan Omar.

In southern Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District, Republican Brad Finstad and DFLer Jeff Ettinger are vying to fill the final few months of Hagedorn’s term. Finstad, a farmer and former state legislator, is also facing a challenge from Republican state Rep. Jeremy Munson to be the nominee for the next two-year term; Ettinger was favored on the DFL side, although he also has a pair of challengers from within the party.

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Turnout overall for the August primary could struggle to match 2018 and 2020 — around 22 percent of eligible voters in each of those — due to a lack of competitive races high on the ballot.

Secretary of State Steve Simon has declined to predict the turnout level.

“So much of it depends on people’s engagement with particular races,” Simon said Monday. “If there are hot races on the ballot, turnout is up in Minnesota. If there aren’t hot races, then turnout is down.”

DFL Gov. Tim Walz faces only nominal opposition from frequent candidate Ole Savior. And Republican governor candidate Scott Jensen, who won his party’s endorsement in May, is facing minor opposition from Republicans Bob Carney and Joyce Lacey on the GOP ballot.

The two marijuana parties, which enjoy elevated status in Minnesota, have primaries to decide their gubernatorial nominees.

The only statewide primary race with much intrigue is for attorney general. First-time candidate and private attorney Jim Schultz carried the Republican endorsement into his matchup with former state Rep. Doug Wardlow, who was the party’s 2018 nominee.

The winner will advance to a fall campaign against DFL Attorney General Keith Ellison, who has a DFL challenger in Bill Dahn but isn’t expected to face any trouble. The attorney general’s election could be one of the fiercest and most expensive Minnesota has seen, with Republicans sensing opportunity around an office they haven’t held in 50 years.

There are scattered primaries for the Legislature as well.

Some Republican incumbents, including several from the GOP Senate majority, are dealing with serious challenges from the right.

And some DFL incumbents are on the ropes as well.

The legislative primaries most in the spotlight:

  • Senate District 5 in northern Minnesota between Republican Sen. Paul Utke, endorsed candidate Bret Bussman and another candidate, Dale Anderson.
  • Senate District 10 in central Minnesota, an open seat where former legislators Jim Newberger and Steve Wenzel were among those vying for the GOP nod.
  • Senate District 23 in southern Minnesota where Republican Sen. Gene Dornink was challenged by restaurant owner Lisa Hanson.
  • Senate District 54 in the Prior Lake area between Republican Sen. Eric Pratt and endorsed candidate Natalie Barnes.
  • Senate District 56 on the DFL side between endorsed candidate Justin Emmerich and former state Rep. Erin Maye Quade.
  • Senate District 62 in Minneapolis where DFL Sen. Omar Fateh was up against a well-connected rival in Shaun Laden.
  • Senate District 65 in St. Paul where longtime DFL Sen. Sandy Pappas had two competitive challengers in Zuki Ellis and Sheigh Freeberg.
  • House District 50B in the Bloomington area where two DFL incumbents were facing off — Reps. Andrew Carlson and Steve Elkins.
  • House District 52A in Eagan between two DFL incumbents — Reps. Sandra Masin and Liz Reyer.
  • House District 54A in Shakopee, which was a rematch between Republican state Rep. Erik Mortensen and former GOP state Rep. Bob Loonan.

    Other newly open seats after the once-per-decade redistricting also attracted multiple candidate fields to be narrowed in the party primary.

    Down the ballot were key local races, including two in the most populous Hennepin County. Voters there were chopping lists of candidates down to two for the open county attorney and county sheriff races that will be decided in November.