It'll be Walz vs. Jensen for Minnesota governor as Stanek, Hepola exit

The stage is nearly set for incumbent DFL Gov. Tim Walz to take on Republican challenger Dr. Scott Jensen in the Minnesota governor's race this fall.

Former Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek declined to force a GOP primary against Jensen. Stanek didn't come to the Secretary of State's office before the 5 p.m. Tuesday filing deadline, then released a statement that he would return to law enforcement consulting.

Both Jensen and Walz now face only token opposition in their respective primaries. That's just how the two parties wanted it, said Larry Jacobs, a University of Minnesota political science professor.

"Beating Walz is the number one priority for Republicans," Jacobs said. "Jensen can now spend the coming months focusing on that, building a war chest, and developing a campaign that will be effective in the fall, not having to worry about defeating a fellow Republican."

Then, 20 minutes before Tuesday's deadline, third-party candidate and former talk radio host Cory Hepola said he was ending his campaign for governor. Hepola's statement did not address whether he had collected enough signatures to get on the ballot. In Minnesota, all minor party candidates must file signatures.

Two candidates from the Grassroots Legalize Cannabis party and two from the Legalize Marijuana party also filed to run. The four candidates are automatically on the ballot because the marijuana parties have major-party status in Minnesota. At least one minor party candidate also filed, though the Secretary of State's office was still verifying signatures late Tuesday.

Jensen, a family physician from Chaska, won the Republican endorsement at the party's convention earlier this month and has cleared the field of GOP rivals since then. 

Walz is in his first term since handily defeating Republican Jeff Johnson in 2018.

Attorney general primary

Republicans will have a contested primary in the attorney general's race after Doug Wardlow filed to run. That triggers an Aug. 9 race against Jim Schultz, who beat out Wardlow for the GOP endorsement this month.

"I think it’s important that we let the 300,000 or 400,000 Republicans that tend to vote in primaries make the decision about who’s going to be on the ballot because this is such an important opportunity," Wardlow said in an interview after filing. "I don’t think Jim Schultz can beat [Democratic incumbent] Keith Ellison. And Jim Schultz is a great guy, but I don’t think he’s cut out for the job."

Wardlow lost to Ellison for the open seat in 2018. In a statement, Minnesota GOP Chairman David Hann criticized Wardlow for going back on a pledge to abide by the party's endorsement.

Schultz, an attorney from Minnetonka, has said he's not concerned about a primary challenge from Wardlow.

"I was surprised that he did elect to run given his commitment to the voters," Schultz said in an interview this month. "He didn’t make the commitment to me. He made the commitment to the voters that he would abide by the endorsement."

Ellison faces only minor opposition in the DFL primary, allowing him to conserve resources for the general election.

Surprise in the 1st congressional district

Tuesday's biggest surprise happened when state Rep. Jeremy Munson walked into the Secretary of State's office just before noon and filed to run for southern Minnesota's first congressional district.

Munson narrowly lost the May 24 GOP special primary for the same seat to former state Rep. Brad Finstad. The next day, Munson said he'd be "exiting politics" and supporting Finstad in the Aug. 9 special general election to serve the rest of former U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn's term.

The Aug. 9 ballot will be confusing, thanks to Minnesota election law and the decisions of Munson and fellow Republican Matt Benda to run. The special general election between Finstad and Democrat Jeff Ettinger will be printed on the same ballot as the GOP primary between Finstad, Munson and Benda to decide who advances to November's regular general election.

Munson declined comment after filing to run. "We’ll put out a statement later," he said, getting on an elevator. He didn't.