Looking for a message in Tuesday’s Minnesota primary election results? Voters don’t like divide-and-conquer politics that deepen divisions between rural and urban Minnesotans. In both parties, voters chose gubernatorial candidates with the potential to appeal to the whole state.
Admittedly, guesswork is involved in discerning voters’ desires. They don’t attach explanatory notes to their ballots.
But DFL voters’ preference for Tim Walz over Erin Murphy and Lori Swanson is hard to decode without reference to his geographic base. Walz hails from Mankato and has represented the First Congressional District for 12 years. He made much of his Greater Minnesota credentials, claiming that he stood a better chance than his metro-based opponents would of renewing strained DFL ties to rural Minnesota. His stronger-than-expected showing suggests that DFL voters agreed that an effort to make the DFL more than an urban party should be a priority this year.
Republican voters’ choice of Jeff Johnson over Tim Pawlenty likely had more to do with the two candidates’ perceived affinity for President Donald Trump than with their Minnesota geographic appeal. Yet it likely didn’t hurt Johnson that he grew up in Detroit Lakes and represents a west-suburban district on the Hennepin County Board.
It’s notable, too, that Johnson did not engage in the big-city bashing that Pawlenty employed. At Farmfest on Aug. 8, the former GOP governor scorned DFL policy positions as “Minneapolis for everybody,” the opposite of “a common-sense conservative vision.” That rhetoric won’t hasten the rebuilding of the Republican Party in Minneapolis.
Candidates up and down the ballot should pay heed. Voters may be growing resistant to efforts to win local votes by casting aspersions on entire regions of the state. Increasingly, they may see such appeals for what they are — a ploy that risks long-term damage to this state’s ability to govern itself and compete in the 21st-century economy. This year, there may be an advantage for candidates who exhibit an understanding that functioning as one state is key to Minnesota’s success.