GOP's Benson runs for governor; Gazelka poised to enter race

A side-by-side image of Minnesota Sens. Benson and Gazelka
Republican state Sen. Michelle Benson (left) on Wednesday announced a run for governor and Sen. Paul Gazelka said he is leaving his majority leader post ahead of an expected gubernatorial announcement.
Courtesy of Minnesota State Senate

Updated: 10:58 a.m.

Minnesota Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, announced a run for the Republican nomination for governor Wednesday morning, but her announcement was upstaged by Sen. Paul Gazelka’s news that he is stepping down as Senate Majority Leader.

Benson, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, made her announcement in a video before holding an event in Blaine. The video stressed her rural roots and criticized DFL Gov. Tim Walz, who is expected to seek a second term next year. 

“I am an unwavering conservative fighter who will prioritize public safety, empower parents in education, and lead an opportunity economy,” she said in a statement.

Hours before Benson’s event, Gazelka sent a letter to his Senate colleagues expressing “bittersweet feelings’ about stepping down as leader and listing a number of legislative  accomplishments, including cutting taxes, growing the Senate Republican majority and blocking what he called harmful DFL policies. 

Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, has been publicly previewing a run for governor for months, and said he would not both run and serve as majority leader. His letter said he looks “forward to letting someone else take over serving as leader while I pursue the next chapter in my political life.”

Benson dismissed Gazelka’s move when reporters asked her about it at her announcement.

“I’m running for governor and if I let distraction get in the way of my moving forward I’m not going to do a very good job so we are running today,” Benson said.

A number of other Republicans have already announced runs for governor, including former Sen. Scott Jensen, a physician who has downplayed the impact of COVID-19 and opposed masking and vaccine mandates. 

Mike Murphy, Neil Shah and Mike Marti have also announced campaigns.

Republicans have not won a statewide race in Minnesota since 2006. 

Walz has not officially announced a reelection campaign, but he has been raising money and is widely expected to run. 

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