GOP candidate Scott Jensen downplays abortion in Minnesota governor race
“In Minnesota, it's a protected constitutional right, and no governor can change that,” said Jensen, a Chaska family practice physician. A pro-abortion rights doctors group said Jensen was attempting to obscure his past statements in support of an abortion ban.
ST. PAUL — Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen is downplaying abortion as an issue in the 2022 election, releasing an advertisement this week insisting his Democratic opponent Gov. Tim Walz is “weaponizing” the issue in the campaign.
In the past, Jensen and his running mate Matt Birk have both said they oppose abortions in all cases except where a mother’s life is threatened, something the Walz campaign and other Democrats pounced on after the U.S. Supreme Court ended federal abortion protections in June. Incumbent Walz has pledged to protect abortion rights in Minnesota following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
The Jensen campaign in July attempted to clarify that it supported exceptions for abortion in the case of rape and incest, but in a new September ad appeared to make an attempt to move past the issue altogether. In a video uploaded to Facebook Wednesday, Sept. 7, Jensen, holding an infant in his arms, begins by saying he has delivered over 500 babies in his career before turning to call the abortion issue “divisive.”
“In Minnesota, it's a protected constitutional right, and no governor can change that,” said Jensen, a Chaska family practice physician and former state senator. “And I'm not running to do that. I'm running because we need safe streets, excellent schools, parental rights and more money in the family budget.”
Abortion rights in Minnesota remain protected under the 1995 state Supreme Court decision Doe v. Gomez, limiting possibilities for opponents to pass laws restricting the procedure.
Jensen has softened or limited his statements on abortion since the June overturning of Roe. In a Minnesota Public Radio interview this spring, he said he would try to ban abortion and did not support exceptions. On the day the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Lt. Gov. candidate Matt Birk told an anti-abortion group he did not support abortions for rape victims because “two wrongs won’t make a right.”
But in July, Jensen and Birk appeared in a video where Jensen described his past comments on his abortion positions as “clumsy” and outlined a plan to support women , including policies like adoption tax credits and support for family and maternity leave.
Hamline University political science professor David Schultz said Jensen's ad shows an effort to downplay the reproductive rights issue and an attempt to move on.
"Now, I don't think he's going to succeed on this one and the reason why is that he's evolved a lot in what, two or three months on the issue," he said. "I think voters will start to ask the question, well, you know, where is he really on this issue?"
Jensen's messaging on abortion provoked a challenge Wednesday from doctors with Committee to Protect Health Care, a political advocacy group that supports expanding abortion access.
“Dr. Scott Jensen repeatedly said he supports banning abortions and would not make exceptions for rape or incest,” said Dr. Dawn Ellison, a retired emergency room physician, later adding: “Minnesotans deserve to hear where Dr. Scott Jensen stands on abortion ... and they have a right to get the health care they need without political interference.”
Along with crime and public safety, abortion is shaping to be a core issue for many voters in the 2022 elections. Following the overturning of Roe in June and the slowing of inflation, one major poll shows fortunes turning against Jensen.
A KSTP-TV and SurveyUSA poll released Tuesday showed Walz had expanded to a double-digit lead over Scott Jensen — 51% to 33%. The poll of more than 500 likely voters was conducted Aug. 30-Sept. 4, with 35% identifying as Democrats, 35% as Republicans and 26% as independents. A May survey from the Twin Cities news broadcaster had Walz at 44% and Jensen at 39%.
Schultz said while polls can sometimes differ significantly from the final outcome of a race, Walz's 18-point lead likely has to do with the governor's success at using the abortion issue against Jensen in a state where the majority of people support access to the procedure.
"At this point, you have to think that the shift from the May to the current poll has to do in part, to his stance on abortion and to how successful Walz has been in terms of casting him, or painting him as against abortion rights," Schultz said.
Part of Walz's edge is a significant fundraising advantage that allows for consistent advertising, Schultz explained. Jensen’s campaign tails significantly behind Walz in fundraising, according to Minnesota Campaign Finance Board reports made public July 25. Those filings showed Walz had nearly $5 million cash on hand compared to Jensen’s roughly $580,000.
Jensen’s campaign, which has focused more on its social media presence to get its message out, this week announced an almost “seven-figure ad buy” for the month of September, though that amount is still overshadowed by the resources of the Walz campaign. Alliance for a Better Minnesota, an independent group that backs Walz, has spent more than $1 million in ads against Jensen since August. September is the first month Jensen has run TV advertising for his campaign.