Tim Walz was picked Saturday to lead the Democratic Governors Association, a new role for Minnesota's second-term governor that will put him on the national campaign trail in the midst of a major presidential election year.
As the next chair, Walz will become the messaging face for the organization (DGA) in 2024, traveling across the country to raise money and campaign for Democratic governor candidates in 11 states where they're on the ballot.
"Governors are where the action is at," Walz, a former congressman and teacher, said in an interview. "It's easy for me to get up there and talk about this. If states elect good governors, good things happen for their people."
Walz was selected by his peers for the job Saturday at the DGA's meeting in Phoenix. He'll take over the gavel on Sunday and lead the organization through 2024, replacing current chair Phil Murphy, the governor of New Jersey.
In the 2022 cycle, the DGA's political action fund spent more than $23 million trying to elect Democratic governor candidates and defend incumbent governors in states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, according to campaign finance records. It also put resources into Walz's second-term bid, which he won by nearly 8 percentage points.
"They were incredibly helpful to me in 2022. I want to pay back and do some of the things to help that they did to help me," said Walz, who added that he'll also tout Minnesota's productive 2023 legislative session as a model for what other states can do if they elect Democrats.
"We elected a Democrat governor to a second term, and some of these progressive issues — from reproductive health care to school meals — got done," he said. "There's some momentum built on that and I'm certainly humbled."
The DGA's Republican counterpart is the Republican Governors Association. It spent nearly $32 million on many of the same races in the previous cycle, according to federal campaign finance reports.
Fewer governor races will be on the ballot in 2024, but Democrats face the challenge of having no incumbents to defend.
In North Carolina — a state then-President Donald Trump won in 2020 — they hope to elect a new Democrat to replace term-limited Gov. Roy Cooper. Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee is also stepping down after three terms, and Delaware Gov. John Carney is hitting his term limit, leaving his seat open.
Walz sees opportunity for gains in states such as New Hampshire — carried by Joe Biden in 2020 — where Republican Gov. Chris Sununu is leaving office. Walz said he did similar work for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's frontline program, helping candidates "who were just like me, in tough districts."
"The DGA is hoping he can take some of the Minnesota magic and export it to other states around the country and win more governorships," said DFL Party Chair Ken Martin. "[Walz] doesn't have the biggest name in Democratic politics, but what he does have is a story to tell."
Walz's biggest task for the organization will be raising funds to help their candidates. Walz said he got a test run for the gig this year raising money in Minnesota for Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who held on to his seat in this fall's election.
"The Andy Beshear race gives us incredible momentum," Walz said. "That's a state that Trump won by 26 points, and Beshear ran unabashedly on reproductive rights and was able to win."
In a statement, Beshear said Walz was there for him through a "especially tough reelection campaign" and has "demonstrated he knows what it takes to win across the country."
Walz will work with DGA staff and a handful of other governors on their campaign plan for 2024. He said he's not worried about his ability to handle his national responsibilities on top of a busy 2024 legislative session and election cycle in Minnesota.
"I've always been able to multi-task, and I think even the Republicans' critique of me is not that I don't work hard," Walz said. "My first and foremost responsibility is to the state of Minnesota, but I also feel this responsibility to help because we have good things going here."