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Walz, DFL unleash millions in campaign spending in final weeks before election

Scott Jensen, GOP nominee for Minnesota governor, took in more money than his opponent over the last month's reporting period, but his spending still trailed significantly.

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Tim Walz, left, and Scott Jensen
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — Spending has taken off in Minnesota races in the final month leading up to the November general election, with campaigns and outside groups dumping millions into contests for statewide office.

Pre-general election reports from the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board released Tuesday, Nov. 1, show campaigns for statewide office ramping up spending, with DFL Gov. Tim Walz’s campaign spending roughly $3.7 million between Sept. 20 and Oct. 24 — a significant portion of the $8.6 million he has spent in 2022.

Meanwhile, Republican challenger Scott Jensen outraised Walz last month by about $100,000, but did not spend nearly as much as his Democratic-Farmer-Labor rival. Jensen has thrown $1.9 million at campaign expenses since September in a race that has appeared closer in recent weeks as some polls indicate the gap between the candidates could be closing.

The result of the big spending this past month can be seen in the constant political TV ads and pamphlet-stuffed mailboxes, particularly in key competitive areas of the state. Spending alone does not win elections, but candidates with more money can afford bigger ad buys and bigger campaign staffs. Campaign finance reports can give a window into levels of support and relative strengths of the campaigns.

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Cash from the campaigns themselves only tells part of the story. Outside groups, which are prohibited from directly coordinating with campaigns, can spend vast sums in support of or against a candidate and are not subject to the same spending or contribution limits.

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DFL Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and GOP challenger Scott Jensen meet in their third and final debate at the Fitzgerald Theater in downtown St. Paul on Oct. 28.
Alex Derosier / File / Forum News Service

Jensen, who had minimal outside support for much of 2022, gained a big boost last week when the national Republican Governor’s Association threw $750,000 to back his campaign. It’s the first major independent spending from an outside group backing Jensen. Walz, on the other hand, has had millions in advertising from the outside group Alliance for a Better Minnesota, which started in August.

Spending has ramped up in other races as well, with many Democrats in statewide races using their sizable cash advantages to outspend their Republican challengers, while still holding on to bigger reserves in the two weeks leading up to Election Day on Nov. 8.

The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party has held onto the Minnesota Attorney General's Office since 1971, but recent polling show Ellison and Schultz within several percent points of each other.

Between Sept. 20 and Oct. 24, Attorney General Keith Ellison’s campaign spent $1.2 million compared to GOP challenger Jim Schultz’s $500,000. Even with Ellison spending more than twice what Schultz did, he still has more money left over. The race for attorney general is considered by many observers to be the closest of the races for statewide office this fall, with many polls placing Ellison and Schultz neck and neck.

DFLer Steve Simon, who is running for his third term, has spent much of his time on the campaign trail trying to dispel myths about the election system and boosting confidence in Minnesota elections administration. GOP challenger Kim Crockett is running largely on the premise that the current election system is vulnerable to fraud and manipulation.

In the race for secretary of state, incumbent DFLer Steve Simon, who is seeking a third term as the state’s top election administrator, has continued to outraise and outspend GOP challenger Kim Crockett vastly. Simon spent $794,000 last month compared to Crockett’s $78,000. Even with significant spending, he entered the last two weeks of the race with a half-million in pocket compared to Crockett’s roughly $112,000.

A group called iVote is spending $2 million on TV ads in support of Simon in Minnesota, Politico reported, outside spending Crockett has decried as “dark money.” Crockett has not enjoyed Simon's level of outside backing. Recent polls have rated the secretary of state contest as a close contest.

The statewide office doesn’t always grab headlines in an election year, and the work of the auditor is often not as political or high-profile as other offices says Julie Blaha, a DFLer who is running for her second term in the office.

In the auditor’s race, Republican Ryan Wilson has outspent incumbent DFL auditor Julie Blaha by self-financing a significant portion of his campaign. Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 24, Wilson’s campaign had taken in close to $460,000 and spent close to $533,000 — the campaign owes $91,000. In the same time period, Blaha raised about $250,000 and spent $242,000.

The auditor oversees finances for thousands of local government agencies across Minnesota. Polls have also indicated that race could be close.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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