The DFL candidates for governor clashed on Friday over guns, immigration and a late negative ad campaign during their final meeting before next week’s primary.
In one of their final opportunities to reach DFL voters, state Rep. Erin Murphy, Attorney General Lori Swanson and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz used a joint appearance on Minnesota Public Radio to make their last pitches, with each making the case for crafting a governing coalition in times of deep division and dysfunction at the State Capitol.
The winner will face the victor of the Republican primary between former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson. The primary election is Tuesday.
Swanson pointed to her long record as attorney general, including a recent $850 million settlement with 3M, and said she would break legislative gridlock by meeting with the state’s 201 lawmakers.
Walz said his biography as soldier-teacher-congressman from greater Minnesota would help forge new coalitions.
Murphy said her campaign has built a coalition not just for winning the general election in November but for governing.
Although the word “coalition” was much in use, clear differences emerged among the candidates.
Swanson, who joined the race in June and whose views on policy issues have received less wide airing than those of her opponents, differentiated herself from her opponents on two key issues.
She said she is against the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes, citing danger on the roads after her own experience prosecuting drunken driving. Murphy and Walz both said they favor legalization, in part to reduce nonviolent incarceration rates.
Swanson was alone in declining to endorse giving driver’s licenses to those in the country illegally, saying she would form a task force to study the idea.
“I don’t need to convene a task force,” Murphy said. “We’ve been having this discussion in the state of Minnesota for many years, and I’m ready to act.” Walz also would grant licenses to people not here legally.
Murphy counterattacked on the gun issue when she was called out by opponents for failing to move gun-control legislation when she was state House majority leader in 2013-14.
“I’ve always gotten an ‘F’ from the [National Rifle Association],” Murphy said. “This is an important issue in this race because Congressman Walz and Attorney General Swanson have both gotten an ‘A’ and ‘A+.’ ”
Murphy said when she was trying to move legislation she was thwarted by the NRA. “I know the congressman and attorney general were standing with the NRA at the very time that was happening. That’s a problem.”
Walz, who has distanced himself from the gun-rights movement since running for governor, said his background as a marksman and sportsman would help him talk to gun owners who will be needed to get anything passed.
“Advocacy is one thing, but effectiveness and leadership is another,” he said of Murphy’s failed attempts to get legislation passed.
The final days of the DFL race have been marked by the only negative ad campaign run by a candidate. A Swanson TV ad attacks Walz for missing votes in Congress during his run for governor.
When asked about her negative turn, Swanson said the ad is truthful and added: “If you have a job at McDonald’s, you’re expected to make your shift.”
Walz called his absenteeism a “fair critique” in a news conference after the debate. But he noted that he had not missed any votes that affected the ultimate outcome of any bills. “I’m disappointed [Swanson] chose to go down the low road,” he said.
Swanson had to defend herself against allegations this week from former aides that the attorney general’s office was politicized.
The debate’s first question concerned the allegations, which Swanson denied: “People who participate in the political process in the attorney general’s office do so on their own time, not on the clock of the government. And anyone who gets raises or promotions in the office gets them solely on merit and based on their work responsibilities, period,” Swanson said.
Murphy took a pass on the chance to attack Swanson on the issue and pivoted to her campaign’s message, that Minnesotans want action on key priorities.
“We got into this race 20 months ago and I did so on purpose because I wanted to make sure I was building a campaign and putting Minnesotans in the center of it, the issues that they’re worried about and the issues that matter to them,” she said.