Gov. Tim Walz is leading Republican opponent Scott Jensen in the race for Minnesota governor one week ahead of the start of early voting, according to a new Star Tribune/MPR News/KARE 11 Minnesota Poll.
The poll of 800 likely voters shows Walz leading Jensen 48% to 41% in the governor's race, with 10% of voters still undecided. The governor's strongest support comes from women voters and those living in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, according to the poll, while Jensen is ahead in every other part of the state.
The first-term Democrat's lead in the contest comes as a slight majority of voters also approve of the job he's done as governor. The Minnesota Poll, conducted between Sept. 12 and 14, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
"After bringing unemployment to historic lows, investing in public schools, and enacting the largest tax cut for Minnesotans in recent history, it's not surprising to see that voters approve of Governor Walz's leadership," Walz campaign manager Nichole Johnson said in a statement. "Regardless of polling results, our campaign does not take anything for granted."
Nearly 52% of voters approve of Walz's performance as governor, a slight improvement over the same poll last September and significantly higher than President Joe Biden's approval rating in the state. Despite a recent string of legislative victories, roughly 45% of respondents approve of the job Biden's doing as president, while 49% disapprove.
The president could be a drag on Democrats up and down the ballot in Minnesota this fall, as Republicans increase attacks over rising crime and inflation. One in three voters in the governor's race listed the economy as their top issue, followed by 23% who said crime is the biggest factor swaying their vote.
"Tim Walz has divided us, not united us, through out-of-control crime, crushing inflation, and a rapidly failing education system," Jensen, a physician and former state senator, said in a statement. "I'll continue to travel across the state, introduce myself to Minnesotans, and convince every undecided voter that I'm the best candidate to unite us and heal Minnesota."
Crime is a top concern for Barb Wegleitner, who said she knows people who are afraid to go into downtown Minneapolis because of the rising violence. She said she's also seeing more crime than ever in Shoreview, where she lives, which is part of why she's supporting Jensen.
"Crime is just so out of control," said Wegleitner, 91. "I think there could have been more done."
Abortion ranked a close third among voters in the governor's race, with nearly 22% saying it's a top issue for them this fall. Walz and Democratic allies are attacking Jensen in ads for past comments he made promising to ban abortion in Minnesota.
Since the Supreme Court ruling in June that overturned Roe v. Wade, Jensen has changed his position on the issue, arguing access to abortion is protected in Minnesota through a state Supreme Court ruling.
Walz holds a more than 20-point lead with women voters, while nearly 60% of women approve of the job he's done as governor. Jensen has a nearly 10-point lead with male voters, according to the poll.
Voters between the ages of 18 to 34 strongly prefer Walz in the governor's race, and the governor has an edge with voters ages 35 to 49 and those over 65 years old. Jensen leads with voters ages 50 to 64.
Anita Gibson, 79, doesn't like Jensen's past comments about abortion. She said she also appreciated Walz's handling of COVID-19 and believes the actions he took early in the pandemic saved lives.
"He went against what a lot of people wanted him to do and he did it anyway for the betterment of our health. That was very important," said Gibson, a retired teacher who lives in Richfield. "I respect the way he handles difficult situations and wasn't swayed by strong forces against him."
Walz's decision to institute mask mandates and close schools and businesses to mitigate the spread of the virus during the height of the pandemic has been polarizing, particularly in areas outside of the Twin Cities metro.
The governor has nearly 70% backing in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties, the state's two most populous counties, but Jensen leads Walz in the race for governor in every other area of the state. Jensen has a roughly 12-point lead in southern Minnesota, which Walz represented in Congress for 12 years before becoming governor.
Jensen rose to prominence among Republicans during the pandemic for questioning how COVID-19 was being labeled on death certificates and the effectiveness of vaccines. He's opted not to get vaccinated against the virus, citing immunity from a past infection.
"I am 74 and have health issues, but I've chosen to not be vaccinated because I just didn't trust the vaccine. It hadn't been around and tested long enough," said Monica Nelson, a small business owner from Prior Lake who is backing Jensen. "I like a more cautious approach to that."
Walz won his first term four years ago with the highest margin of any candidate in more than two decades on a promise to unite the state's deepening political and geographic divides. But the poll results show stark division in the race along partisan lines, with 95% of Democrats backing Walz and 91% of Republicans supporting Jensen. Voters who backed Biden and Donald Trump two years ago are similarly divided in the race.
The governor leads Jensen among non-white voters and those with a college degree. He also has a more than 8-point lead with independent voters, according to the poll.
Don Kuck, who lives in Walz's hometown of Mankato, said he doesn't think the governor is perfect, but the actions he took during the pandemic knowing he'd take significant blowback show that "he cares."
"He was following the science all the way. Science is not always perfect, but it leans in the correct direction," said Kuck, 82, a retired science and math teacher. "Governor Walz saved a lot of lives by what he did."