Outside spending pours into Minnesota campaigns

Democratic candidates running for office in Minnesota have a cash edge over their Republican opponents in the final stretch of the 2018 midterm election, but outside groups are dwarfing them with a blitz of last-minute spending with just one week until election day.

In the wide-open race for governor, Democrat Tim Walz reported roughly $640,000 still in the bank ahead of the Nov. 6 election, while his Republican opponent, Jeff Johnson, had $321,000 left to spend.

Similarly, in the open race to be Minnesota’s next attorney general, Democrat Keith Ellison is leading his Republican opponent with $355,000 left to spend compared to Doug Wardlow’s $155,000, even though Wardlow out raised Ellison in the last month.

But in both races, outside groups and political parties are pouring funds into television, radio and digital ads, trying to tip the scales when voters are most engaged.

DFL-aligned Alliance for a Better Minnesota has spent $4.1 million against Johnson alone since late October, while Republican groups like the Minnesota Freedom Club have spent $1.5 million this year against Walz.

The Minnesota DFL Party has poured more than $1 million since the start of October in digital, radio and TV ads opposing Wardlow and supporting Ellison. A recent MPR News/Star Tribune Minnesota Poll showed Ellison trailing Wardlow.

Candidates, political parties and outside groups submitted their final round of fundraising and spending numbers to state regulators ahead of the general election.

The reports also provide a road map of where the battle for control of the Minnesota House is being waged. All 134 seats are on the ballot, but outside groups tend to gravitate to the districts most in play, with some House races already well into six-figures -- more than the candidates themselves are permitted to spend.

Outside groups tied to the state’s business community, including the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Business Partnership, have sunk a combined $2.2 million into ads, mostly on the race for control of the Legislature.

Alliance for a Better Minnesota has also spent several hundred thousand dollars on behalf of legislative Democrats, as well as Everytown, a national group that supports Democratic candidates who support gun control legislation.

And a special election for a single central Minnesota state Senate seat, open after incumbent Republican Sen. Michelle Fischbach stepped down, has attracted $170,000 from Senate Republicans and their allies this year. Republicans are defending their majority in the chamber after Fischbach's exit left the Senate tied 33-33. 

-- MPR News reporter Brian Bakst contributed to this report

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