Money gulf separates candidates in Minnesota governor's race

Some Republican candidates for Minnesota governor are on stronger financial footing than others as the race enters a crucial month ahead of May's GOP convention endorsement. 

Candidates for statewide office were required Thursday to file campaign finance reports showing their contributions and spending in the quarter ending March 31. The Minnesota Campaign Finance Board released those reports publicly Friday morning.

Incumbent DFL Gov. Tim Walz reported $1 million in first-quarter contributions and $4.1 million on hand. Walz faces no primary challenge, allowing him to stockpile that cash for the general election as he runs for a second term.

Walz has three times as much money in his campaign bank account than his seven would-be Republican challengers combined, who are spending much of their cash trying to win the GOP endorsement at the party's May 13-14 convention in Rochester.

The GOP endorsement carries high stakes because Republican statewide candidates traditionally abide by it, dropping out of the race if they don't win the party's backing. However, the lack of a clear frontrunner in 2022 could mean one or more candidates decide to force a primary. 

"It’s suggesting that it’s going to be a really tight convention. I would be surprised if anybody gets an endorsement or, if they do get an endorsement, there will probably be some people who primary whoever gets it," said David Schultz, a Hamline University professor who closely follows Minnesota politics. 

Among GOP candidates in cash on hand and first-quarter contributions:

Scott Jensen: $774,393 on hand, $256,391 in contributions. Jensen, a former state senator from Chaska, has been in the race the longest and won the statewide GOP caucus night straw poll in February. He is also the only Republican candidate to name a running mate, former NFL offensive lineman Matt Birk. Birk and his wife contributed $8,000 to Jensen's campaign in January before joining the ticket in March. The campaign held a rally at the Omni Hotel in Eagan to announce the selection, and $15,300 is due for the event, Jensen's report indicates.

Paul Gazelka: $406,189 on hand, $99,358 in contributions. Gazelka, the former Minnesota Senate majority leader, joined the race last fall.

Kendall Qualls: $168,344 on hand, $467,459 in contributions. Qualls, a former congressional candidate who entered the governor's race in January, raised the most money in the quarter but also spent the biggest percentage of his fundraising haul, including $178,000 on consultants.

Rich Stanek: $40,201 on hand, $149,052 in contributions. The former Hennepin County sheriff, who joined the race in early February, has received $16,000 total from Starkey Hearing Technologies executives and their spouses.

Michelle Benson: $38,076 on hand, $52,116 in contributions. Benson, a state senator from Ham Lake, received a $700 contribution from Mike Marti, who dropped out of the GOP race late last year.

Neil Shah: $22,410 on hand, $50,401 in contributions. Shah, a dermatogist, has also given his campaign $25,000.

Mike Murphy: $2,126 on hand, $12,791 in contributions. The Lexington mayor has also given his campaign $4,300.

Independent candidate Cory Hepola, who is running under the Forward party banner, reported $31,003 in contributions since joining the race in March. Half of Hepola's contributions come from his parents, his campaign treasurer, and the wife of his campaign chairman.