Dr. Scott Jensen, a skeptic of the government’s response to COVID-19, won the backing of the Minnesota Republican Party after a wild ride Saturday to challenge Democratic Governor Tim Walz in the November election, edging out ninth on the ballot. electoral with 65%. of the vote
Jensen, a former state senator who led the first two votes, regained the lead on the seventh ballot with 59%, just short of the 60% needed to claim the endorsement, once Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy endorsed him. after being eliminated on the sixth ballot. .
“Game over,” Jensen told delegates, joined by his running mate, former Minnesota Viking and Baltimore Raven Matt Birk, who used repeated football metaphors to rally his fans.
Jensen’s return ended a surge from business executive Kendall Qualls, who fell to 33% in the final vote after taking the lead on the fourth ballot. But Jensen hit a bump in the road when Qualls, who was trying to become the Minnesota Republican Party’s first black gubernatorial representative, told delegates that Murphy falsely claimed that Qualls had offered to make Murphy a his running mate and then withdrew the offer.
The claim angered some Qualls delegates and forced two additional votes. And Qualls conspicuously didn’t appear onstage with Jensen for the party’s traditional show of unity, ending the convention on a discordant note.
But Qualls and most of the other candidates pledged to honor the party’s endorsement and gave up the right to run in the Republican primary on Aug. 9, with state President David Hann telling reporters he didn’t expect Jensen faced a serious challenge. Former President Donald Trump, who remains a powerful force within the party, has not endorsed anyone in the Minnesota races.
“Minnesota Republicans have chosen the most extreme and dangerous candidate to lead their party this fall,” Minnesota Democratic Party Chairman Ken Martin said in a statement. “In the last two weeks alone, Scott Jensen promised to ban abortion for rape victims and send one of his political opponents to jail. Minnesotans want his leaders to focus on helping working families, but Scott Jensen is only interested in his far-right political agenda.”
Jensen, who entered the convention as the presumptive front-runner, acknowledged that he got nervous when he fell behind in four straight votes.
“But what made me even more nervous was that I had no idea what was going to happen next,” Jensen said. “And as a doctor, the last thing you want is to be in a position where you’re not in control of the situation. So it was a wild ride. I wouldn’t do anything about it.”
The 2,100 delegates were aiming to complete their work by 6:00 p.m. Saturday to vacate the Rochester Mayo Civic Center, but the relatively quick and seamless electronic voting process on Friday reduced the chances of running out of time and leaving without back. 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.
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.”
Jensen was repeatedly joined onstage by Birk, who reminded delegates that he refused to visit the White House after the Ravens’ 2013 Super Bowl victory because of President Barack Obama’s support for abortion rights.
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.
However, it was unclear on Saturday if Jensen would escape serious challenge in the primary. Former Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, who had been seeking the endorsement, was sidelined by a recent car accident, skipped the convention while recovering and has not announced a decision. Hann acknowledged that he had not recently spoken with the Stanek campaign.
“Rich and his campaign team are evaluating all options to move forward and beat Walz in November,” his campaign said in a statement Saturday.
On Friday night, the convention endorsed business lawyer Jim Schultz for attorney general, a position Minnesota Republicans have not won since 1968. He hopes to oust incumbent Keith Ellison, a former congressman who led the prosecution team 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.