Abortion foe Jensen wins Republican governor's nod in Minnesota

(Reuters) – Minnesota Republicans nominated former state Senator Scott Jensen for governor on Tuesday, choosing a physician who has said he will seek to ban most abortions to take on a Democratic incumbent in November’s midterm elections.

FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a face shield finishes her ballot during the primary election in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. August 11, 2020. REUTERS/Nicole Neri

Jensen, who has also cast doubt on the seriousness of COVID-19, will challenge Democratic Governor Tim Walz, who has promised to protect abortion rights. Minnesota has become a haven of sorts for residents of neighboring states where abortion bans went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court in June eliminated a nationwide right to the procedure.

The issue was also central to Wisconsin’s gubernatorial nominating contest on Tuesday, where the two top contenders for the Republican nomination, construction magnate Tim Michels and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, say they will enforce a 19th-century abortion ban that has prompted providers to stop offering the procedure.

With a Republican-majority legislature, either candidate could push through abortion restrictions as governor. Democratic incumbent Tony Evers and his administration have filed litigation challenging the 1849 law while promising not to prosecute doctors who violate it.

The contest between Kleefisch and Michels is the latest proxy battle between Donald Trump and more moderate Republicans. The former president has thrown his support behind Michels, who has poured millions of dollars of his own money into the race, while Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence, and former Governor Scott Walker have endorsed Kleefisch.

Last week’s Kansas ballot, which saw about 60% of voters support abortion rights, has raised Democrats’ hopes that the issue will mobilize their base and attract votes from independents and moderate Republicans. This follows the Supreme Court’s overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973.

Unlike the Kansas initiative, which was open to voters of all parties, Tuesday’s Republican primaries will reflect the preference of just Republican voters.

In addition to a high-profile gubernatorial race, Wisconsin will also host a crucial Senate contest in November. Democrats on Tuesday nominated Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes to challenge U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, perhaps the most vulnerable Republican senator running for re-election this year.

Barnes, who scored endorsements during the primary campaign from liberal U.S. senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, would be the state’s first Black senator.


The battle for Johnson’s seat could determine which party controls the Senate. The chamber is currently split 50-50 with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris casting tie-breaking votes.

While it is unclear whether Democrats will be able to hold their razor-thin Senate majority, Republicans are favored to win back control of the U.S. House of Representatives, which would enable them to block much of Democratic President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda and initiate politically damaging investigations.

For much of the year, Biden’s sagging popularity coupled with persistent inflation have weighed on Democrats’ chances. But the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, completed on Tuesday, showed Biden’s approval rating rose for a third straight week to 40% – still historically low but at the highest level since early June after a string of Democratic legislative victories.

Wisconsin’s Senate and gubernatorial elections this year could serve as a preview of 2024, when Wisconsin will likely again be a major swing state in the presidential election. Trump, who still asserts falsely that Biden’s statewide win in 2020 was fraudulent, has strongly hinted that he intends to run again.

Republicans on Friday named Milwaukee as the site of their 2024 national convention, underscoring the state’s strategic importance.

Kleefisch and Michels have both questioned the 2020 election results, following Trump’s lead. At a Friday night rally with Trump in Waukesha, Michels declared that “election integrity” would be his top priority if elected.

Trump has endorsed hundreds of candidates this year in an effort to exert his influence over the Republican Party. Many of his picks, mostly incumbents, have prevailed, though some have not.

Minnesota was also holding a special election on Tuesday for the U.S. House seat left vacant when Republican Jim Hagedorn died in February after a battle with cancer. Democrat Jeff Ettinger, the former CEO of Hormel Foods, is running against Republican Brad Finstad, a former agricultural official in the Trump administration.

Voters in Connecticut and Vermont were also choosing nominees for congressional and statewide races.

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