Walz pads cash lead as Qualls, Jensen rake in most for GOP

Six people sit on a stage with microphones in hand.
Michelle Benson (left), Neil Shah, Paul Gazelka, Mike Murphy and Scott Jensen participate in a governor's race forum in Wayzata, Minn. on Dec. 7, 2021.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News 2021

A few Republican candidates for governor are separating from the pack when it comes to fundraising, according to reports for the first three months of 2022 that were made public Friday.

The money race is one element that state Republican Party convention delegates could consider as they decide on an endorsement in Rochester next month. For Republicans, that endorsement typically translates into the eventual nomination.

The eventual Republican nominee will have to play catchup to DFL Gov. Tim Walz. He raised $1 million in the opening months of 2022 and has more than $4 million in the bank.

Figures provided to campaign regulators show physician and former state Sen. Scott Jensen with a financial edge among the Republican contenders. He entered April with about $775,000 in the bank after raising about $256,000 from January through March.

Sen. Paul Gazelka had the next most with $406,000 available to spend.

But former business executive Kendall Qualls had the best performance in terms of money raised so far this year. He entered the race in January and pulled in $467,000 through the end of March. He spent much of it raising money and getting his campaign off the ground, leaving him with about $168,000 in reserve.

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Another late entrant, former Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, raised $149,000 since entering in February. He too pushed much of that out the door as he began outreach to active Republican party members.

Stanek entered April in about the same financial position as state Sen. Michelle Benson, whose fundraising trailed all but one of the seven main endorsement contenders. She had $38,000 left in her account.

Former radio host Cory Hepola, who is running as a Forward Party candidate, came into April with $25,000 on hand.

Outside groups loom large in key races, and several are sitting on six- or seven-figure stockpiles. They don’t have contribution limits and their spending often dwarfs the candidates themselves.

So far, Minnesota is not on the national radar as one of the most competitive. But that can change quickly.

Other highlights of newly filed reports show:

  • Republican attorney general candidate Dennis Smith, who plans to go straight to an August primary, had $765,000 in his fund after loaning himself $500,000 in January. First-time candidate Jim Schultz led the way among Republicans pursuing the endorsement with $101,000 in the bank. He’s in a tough race with 2018 nominee Doug Wardlow and former judge Tad Jude, who had $30,000 and $42,000 in the bank respectively.

  • DFL Secretary of State Steve Simon will go into the election season with a huge advantage given the more than $561,000 he has amassed; the two Republicans vying to take him on, Kim Crockett and Kelly Jahner-Byrne, are headed to a contested convention with about $57,000 combined.

  • Incumbent State Auditor Julie Blaha, a DFLer, is in a tighter fundraising race with Republican Ryan Wilson. Blaha had about $24,500 to Wilson’s $21,300.

  • The parties holding the current legislative majorities were in the strongest financial position with all 201 seats on the line. House DFLers have a two-to-one cash advantage over House Republicans. The Senate GOP was up almost $400,000 on the Senate DFL. Legislative races always attract considerable outside group spending.