It’s DFLer Tim Walz vs. Republican Jeff Johnson for governor. That matchup, produced by Tuesday’s primary voters, is the latest unexpected twist in what already ranks among the most turbulent political years in modern Minnesota history — and it’s only August.
Republican voters delivered Tuesday’s biggest surprise when they opted for Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson for governor over former Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty’s wide name recognition and fundraising prowess had made him the pundits’ presumed favorite to win the GOP gubernatorial nomination.
U.S. Rep. Tim Walz’s relatively easy victory also surprised the political pros who held that the DFL gubernatorial contest was a tight three-way race. Walz handily topped DFL endorsee Erin Murphy, while three-term Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, who entered the race abruptly in early June, finished well behind in third place.
Tuesday’s primary also sent to the Nov. 6 ballot a pair of DFL U.S. senators, a DFL congressman who aims to become the state’s attorney general, a relative political newcomer who stands to become the first Somali-American member of Congress, a Republican First District candidate who hopes his third try is the charm, and a former legislator who faces a struggle to keep the formerly DFL-solid Eighth District in his party’s hands.
Thus concludes a remarkable primary season. Seldom have so many formidable politicians become candidates for office so late in the season, many announcing candidacies on filing deadline day. Seldom have so many high-profile candidates — Pawlenty, Walz and Swanson among them — been willing to challenge the endorsement choices made by delegates to political party conventions.
Seldom has so much information about candidates’ public performances and personal histories come to voters’ attention so close to an election day. DFL voters struggled in recent days to determine the reliability and relevance of claims made about Swanson’s use of the attorney general’s office staff for political purposes and about attorney general candidate (and Tuesday winner) Keith Ellison’s conduct toward a longtime girlfriend in 2016, as their relationship ended. Ellison’s victory ensures that voters will hear more about those claims in the days ahead.
Late-launching candidacies and late-breaking news put the responsibility for vetting candidates squarely on voters’ shoulders. One might fairly say that’s where it belongs. But the burden has been heavy this year, and some voters have found it uncomfortable. To them, we can offer no assurance of relief in the next 12 weeks. If anything, the task of sorting through competing claims will become more difficult as post-primary spending floodgates open.
Our hunch is that this year’s experience will inspire renewed interest in improving the process by which Minnesotans choose candidates for elective offices. We’ll welcome those ideas in due time. For now, we’ll stay focused on this extraordinary year in Minnesota politics, and urge voters to do the same.