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In polling places across Minnesota Tuesday, voters came out to side with candidates for local, state and national offices based on who they said most closely aligned with their values.

In the minds of many voters, Tuesday was a test of whether candidates are conservative enough, progressive enough or moderate enough to carry through to November.

Democrats around the Twin Cities are deciding whether to send Ilhan Omar and Betty McCollum back to Congress. Republicans are picking between Jim Schultz and Doug Wardlow to determine which attorney general candidate takes on Democrat Keith Ellison this fall.

Voters across the state are spending the day determining intra-party battles for legislative seats and local offices. Except for one contest in Southern Minnesota, that is, where the usual midterm primary race to narrow the field of First Congressional District hopefuls is joined by a special election between Republican Brad Finstad, Democrat Jeff Ettinger and two marijuana party candidates. The special election will determine who temporarily represents the district in Washington following the death of U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn.

There's also a slate of seven candidates seeking the Hennepin County attorney's job, and that field will be narrowed to two.

As of early Tuesday afternoon, observers around the state said primary election turnout appeared in line with other mid-term years. And around 141,000 Minnesotans statewide had voted early, which was similar to the early voter turnout in the last midterm race — pre-COVID — in 2018.

Voter Amy Dillahunt of Minneapolis took her ballot to be scanned and counted Tuesday in Powderhorn Park.
Voter Amy Dillahunt of Minneapolis took her ballot to be scanned and counted Tuesday in Powderhorn Park.

David Joles, Star Tribune

While there were hotly contested Democratic and Republican primary battles for the governor's seat four years ago, neither DFL Gov. Tim Walz nor his GOP challenger Scott Jensen has a formidable primary opponent this year.

Still, they drew their supporters to the polls.

At Hosanna Church in Lakeville, longtime Democrat and Milwaukee transplant Coleen Kittleson called Walz's approach to the job "balanced."

But Julie Kleiner, 61, a longtime resident of Lakeville, said, "I did not like Mr. Walz's response to the riots" — three times — to emphasize what prompted her vote for Jensen.

Elsewhere, much of the attention in Tuesday's primary is focused on congressional races. Along with the First District faceoffs, there are contentious metro area battles. Fifth District U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar faces a DFL challenge from former Minneapolis city council member Don Samuels, and longtime Fourth District U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum is running against first-time DFL candidate Amane Badhasso.

A sign indicated a polling place at the Minneapolis Central Library on Tuesday.
A sign indicated a polling place at the Minneapolis Central Library on Tuesday.

David Joles, Star Tribune

At North Regional Library in Minneapolis, Rebecca Ramirez, 32, and Robert Ciborowski, 31, walked in from their home three blocks away. They voted for Ilhan Omar to keep for her progressive stance, they said.

"I think the ways that she has handled herself in Congress as a Muslim woman is both inspiring and true to what she said she would do in the first place," Ciborowski said of Omar. "I also think Don Samuels is not a strong candidate at all compared to her."

But Carolyn Pinke, 72, voted for Don Samuels — and said a bunch of her neighbors will, too.

"I like his points of view on things. He's a very good man," she said, adding that she supported his work to defeat "the defund-the-police movement."

She said: "I was in favor of that."

At the Van Cleve Recreation Center in Minneapolis' Como neighborhood, Mya Halvorson said she was excited to cast her ballot for Omar after seeing "the well-funded campaign against her."

"I think she does a good job at pushing a progressive agenda that is representative of what people here in Minneapolis want as well," Halvorson said.

"In general, I've just tried to make a habit of voting in primaries," the 21-year-old added. "I think Minnesota makes it easy. I'm a college student, I'm pretty highly mobile, so I've registered at the polls pretty much every time."

Damion Smith, a school psychologist from St. Paul lives only a few blocks away from Martin Luther King Community Recreation Center. He said he mainly came to the polls to support Congresswoman Betty McCollum — as well as Sheigh Freeberg for state senator. Smith said h His main concerns are education reform and union rights, as he is a member of the Saint Paul Federation of Educators.

"Sheigh supported the SPFE, the union I'm a part of, when we did our strike a couple years ago," he said.

Reid Roswell, 53, said that he was mostly concerned about police reform after he stepped out of Martin Luther King Community Recreation Center in St. Paul.

Roswell, a local business owner who fixes houses, said that while he's a liberal, he's skeptical of Gov. Walz and voted against him to "make sure he knew that there was one more person who thinks he should be a better Democrat."

"I want a representative more in tune with the actual issues," he said, which includes Medicare For All and defunding police. "Definitely not Betty McCollum."

Local races draw interest

Local races, too, are pulling people to the polls. In Brooklyn Center, turnout was light Tuesday morning.

Kacey Gerspach said she voted for Mayor Mike Elliott this morning. From the last two elections, she said, she's learned that small elections matter and have a big impact.

"A lot of decisions start at the bottom," Gerspach said.

She also said she researched Brooklyn Center City Council candidates and didn't just vote for the ones who had lawn signs out.

Jamael Lundy, 33, said the Hennepin County Attorney race drew him to the poll at North Regional Library — he doesn't think the other contests will be competitive.

Lundy, who recently worked for the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Division, voted for Mary Moriarty.

"I think what happens a lot in Minneapolis politics is people hold onto their jobs at the expense of their values. What she's demonstrated is she's willing to lose her job in order to speak out for issues like racial equity," Lundy said of Moriarty [for being willing to stand up to the Minnesota Board of Public Defense]

"She has the competence of character component," he added. "There is nobody in the race who has led a large law office."

At Aune Hall inside Graham Park in Rochester. Don Nogosek, the head election judge, said many voters were motivated to vote in local elections – a conservative bloc of candidates is challenging incumbents on the Rochester Public Schools board and progressive Mayor Kim Norton faces three challengers for the right to be on the ballot in November.

Continued divide

Back in Rochester, Doug and Linda Herdahl, 69 and 74, say they voted for Brad Finstad for his conservative credentials and because he was the endorsed Republican candidate. They especially liked his education policies and his promise to act as a bulwark against President Joe Biden's progressive policies.

"It starts with the school board," Doug said. "Training up kids to respect the country and the flag and the Constitution."

"They need to learn the history of it," Linda said.

Victor Griffin, 25, said he was driven to the polls in part because his mother works as an election judge. He said he was concerned about how partisan and tribal elections have become.

"I really just wish we really weren't at the point where we're voting against people," he said. "I just wish everyone could get up on a stage and actually talk about what they believe in and discuss that instead of it basically being a punching fest. Although if it were an actual punching fest, I think they'd get more views."

Nancy Neumann, 73, said she hoped Democrats would "clean up" the congressional district, the state, and even local elections.

"Right now, I would not touch a Republican with a 10-foot pole," she said.

Neumann said she was concerned over Republicans' adversarial attitude in state and federal government rather than working together with Democrats on public issues.

"They don't want to work for the country, they want to work for their party," she said.

How to vote

This is the first election using the state's new political boundaries after congressional and legislative district maps were redrawn in February. Voters can check where to vote and who is on their ballot using the Secretary of State's polling place finder.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mail-in ballots must arrive by primary day, and those dropping off ballots at their local election office need to do so before 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Staff writers Katie Galioto, Katelyn Vue, Hana Ikramuddin and Tim Harlow contributed to this report.