Candidates in Minnesota's top races are jockeying for endorsements from state law enforcement groups this election cycle, aiming to position themselves to voters as the best person to tackle concerns about rising crime.
The two contenders in Minnesota's heated attorney general race have held dueling press conferences in recent weeks to roll out their law enforcement backers. The state's largest professional police organization reversed its endorsement from two years ago in a pivotal congressional battleground seat, and on Thursday the group waded into the governor's race, endorsing Republican candidate Scott Jensen while standing outside of the former Third Precinct in Minneapolis.
"Over my shoulder used to be a police department; it's no longer there," said Brian Peters, executive director of the Minnesota Peace and Police Officers Association. DFL Gov. Tim Walz "has been missing in action during his term. We need leadership that is going to support law enforcement and not show up when it's convenient, or it's an election cycle."
Jensen said he wants to triple the police force in Minneapolis and rebuild the Third Precinct, which remains charred and vacant since it was destroyed during riots following George Floyd's killing by a police officer.
"We're going to take back our streets and the police are going to know that they've got a governor who's got their back," Jensen said.
Crime and public safety are among the top issues for voters this cycle. The Star Tribune/MPR News/KARE 11 Minnesota Poll in September found that crime was the second most important issue for voters in the race for governor, ranking after the economy and slightly ahead of abortion.
Democrats are trying to motivate their base to turn out over concerns about abortion access in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Republicans are doing the same with crime, blaming the riots and the movement to create a new department of public safety in Minneapolis for demoralizing police across the state.
Floyd's killing by a Minneapolis police officer turned large parts of the DFL base against police. But Democratic candidates, including Walz, have focused the conversation this cycle on cracking down on illegal gun sales and keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals.
A spokesman for the Walz campaign said the group didn't invite the governor for a screening for the endorsement.
"Governor Walz has proposed hundreds of millions of dollars to fund local police departments and help them hire more officers, and he'll keep fighting to deliver more funding, training, and resources in his second term," said Walz campaign spokesman Darwin Forsyth. "Scott Jensen opposes common sense reforms like universal background checks and red flag laws that would help keep guns out of the hands of criminals and off our streets."
Thursday's news conference was just the latest endorsement from law enforcement groups rolled out by state candidates. In the closely contested attorney general's race, Republican candidate Jim Schultz is touting the MPPOA's endorsement and recently held a news conference to announce the backing of 22 county sheriffs.
DFL Attorney General Keith Ellison countered with his own news conference announcing the backing of nine county attorneys, featuring some of those same prosecutors in his first television ad that focused on his work on criminal cases.
The MPPOA, which represents more than 10,000 rank-and-file police officers in the state, is backing mostly Republicans for legislative and congressional races this fall, continuing the group's shift toward the GOP that started in 2020.
Previously, the group largely endorsed Democrats, including former Gov. Mark Dayton in his 2010 campaign for governor. The group did not endorse anyone in the governor's race four years ago, when Walz defeated Republican Jeff Johnson.
But the group is backing a handful of Democrats this cycle, including U.S. Rep. Angie Craig in the battleground race for the Second District, reversing its 2020 backing for her Republican opponent Tyler Kistner.
The MPPOA cited Craig's support for funding and resources for police during her two terms in Congress. Craig is also touting the backing of the Dakota County Sheriff in her race for reelection.
The MPPOA backed former Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka — not Jensen — this spring in the battle for the state GOP endorsement. Peters said he had several meetings with Jensen and "many in-depth conversations."
The board of directors of the group selects candidates to endorse through interviews and screening questionnaires.
"It's getting to know each other and understanding what their priorities are," said Peters.