It's easy to look at election maps — a sea of red but for urban blue islands — and wonder why Republican candidates aren't winning. That trend was particularly true in this year's Minnesota governor's race, where the margin of victory for the winning candidate in most counties was either less strong than in 2018 for Walz or stronger for the Republican candidate that year. Eight counties even flipped from DFL Gov. Tim Walz in 2018 to Republican Scott Jensen in 2022.

And yet, Jensen lost by 8 points after all those gains. Similarly, Republican candidate Jim Schultz lost the attorney general's race in a much tighter contest. Republicans haven't won statewide office in Minnesota since former Gov. Tim Pawlenty won re-election in 2006 with 46% of the vote. Walz had enough of a win in 2018 — with more than 53% of the vote — that he could afford to lose some counties and still prevail by nearly 200,000 votes.

Beyond the core metro area and a handful of counties in the Arrowhead, it's tough for any Republican to win for one simple reason — there are fewer voters in reliably conservative areas of the state.

In places with sizable populations, there are smaller cities (looking at you, St. Cloud!), especially college towns, that often have close margins or lean blue — enough to chip away at Republicans' chances.

When those same counties are measured by how many more votes Walz and Jensen had over each other — their net votes — it shows just how hard it is for greater Minnesota to overcome the large liberal Hennepin and Ramsey county electorate and growing suburbs.

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Data source: Minnesota Secretary of State