Scott Jensen says Minnesota GOP can't win without new stance on abortion

Scott Jensen, who lost to Gov. Tim Walz in last week's midterm election, says he and other Republicans erred on the abortion issue and that the party needs to change its stance to win Minnesota statewide elections.

"The hardline position on abortion isn’t going to win," Jensen said in an interview at his family medical practice in Watertown. "So, if that’s where a group of people say that’s where we have to stay, and we have to do everything we can to ban abortions legally, completely, I think that there’s no way we win."

Jensen lost to Walz by 193,000 votes, or 7.7 percentage points. The race turned when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, leaving abortion access up to states.

While trying to win the GOP endorsement this spring, Jensen said he would try to ban abortion. He later shifted his stance, but Democrats spent millions of dollars on an avalanche of television attack ads using his previous comments.

Jensen said his campaign didn't have the financial resources to respond to the onslaught for weeks.

"I remember talking to someone who provided some very sensible advice, and he said, ‘You need to respond to this within 48 hours,’" Jensen said. "I said, 'We have no capability of doing that.' We didn’t have production capabilities, we didn’t have scripts, ideas, and we didn’t have the money."

Jensen said his wife, Mary, predicted around the Fourth of July that the abortion issue would hurt his campaign. But he shrugged off the political potency of the issue on the advice of his inner and outer circle that were "demanding" that he focus on inflation, crime, and education while believing the abortion issue would "fizzle" before Election Day.

Jensen did focus on crime and the economy and used Walz's relative unpopularity in rural Minnesota to win by huge margins in many sparsely populated counties.

But he failed to make headway in the Twin Cities metro, losing Hennepin County by a worse margin than the GOP's 2018 candidate, Jeff Johnson. Asked how the Republicans could make inroads in the suburbs, Jensen gave a blunt assessment.

"Arguably, you would say that you shouldn’t ask me for advice," he said. "I got smoked by 190,000 votes."

On abortion, Jensen said Republicans need to support some initiatives he started talking about on the campaign trail this fall: making birth control available over the counter with a $10 per month maximum copay, paid maternity leave, and a tax credit for adopting a child.

Jensen, who served a single term in the Minnesota Senate before launching his bid for governor, said he had no plans to run for anything in the future.

"The Democrats have a chance now to move forward with a lot of their initiatives. They earned it. They won," he said. "And I think Republicans are going to have to watch and ask themselves, 'Hmm, how do we change that in the future?'"