ST. PAUL — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan on Tuesday, Oct. 19, announced they would run for reelection in 2022, touting their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It's the first time the pair has stated publicly that they plan to make a bid for their positions, though their campaign team has continued fundraising for months. And in the first two and a half years of their tenure, the administration has faced civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd and a global pandemic.

"During the unprecedented challenges of the last two years, I’ve seen Minnesotans from all walks of life come together in order to fight the virus, save lives and get our state on the path to recovery," Walz, a Democrat, said in a statement. "We’re not done yet, but Peggy and I are excited to continue that fight with you."

Walz and Flanagan in 2018 won their election by a hefty margin and while the pair had strong support early on in the pandemic, public polling shows that their popularity has decreased. The state's response to COVID-19 and unrest following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police have spurred division around Minnesota. And those themes have already come to the fore in the field of gubernatorial candidates.

Half a dozen Republican challengers including state Sens. Michelle Benson and Paul Gazelka, as well as former Sen. Scott Jensen, have lined up to take Walz on in 2022.

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In a video message released early Tuesday, Walz, a former congressman and school teacher, and Flanagan, the first Indigenous woman elected to statewide office, highlight their efforts to boost funding to public schools and child care, transition toward clean energy and create jobs. They also said they'd continue the state's efforts to fight COVID-19 and work to rebuild as the pandemic recedes.

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The pair also sought to distinguish itself against GOP challengers who've disagreed with their approach to containing the disease.

"Their dangerous views discouraging vaccines and masking, and downplaying COVID put politics ahead of science and put lives at risk," Flanagan said.

Walz continued, "We won’t let that happen. We’ve got to move forward as one Minnesota."

Flanagan and Walz were set to host a virtual campaign event with supporters on Tuesday at 7 p.m. They said they would launch a series of backyard conversations around the state to meet with regional leaders and talk about issues affecting communities.

Following their announcement Tuesday, Walz and Flanagan faced blowback from their Republican challengers. On Twitter Jensen wrote, "Tim Walz hasn't earned a 2nd Term." Meanwhile, Gazelka said the governor pursued "disastrous" policies and showed "weakness and hesitation in the face of lawlessness and rising crime."

"Tim Walz's 'One Minnesota' mantra is not an appeal for unity; it is a cover for a coercive, one-size-fits-all approach to governing through more regulation and a bigger bite by government out of hard-working Minnesotans' paychecks," Gazelka said.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com