Minn. incumbents mostly prevail but some have close calls

A woman waves and smiles
Betty McCollum greets supporters at an election night party at Urban Growler Brewing in St. Paul, Minn. on Tuesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Updated: Aug. 10, 8:10 a.m.

Two DFL incumbents in Congress fended off spirited challenges Tuesday and Republicans kept a seat opened up by the death of one of their members in an August election that set the table for a high-stakes November.

Map of Minnesota US House District 4
Minnesota US House District 4
Elisabeth Gawthrop | APM Research Lab

Rep. Betty McCollum, the dean of Minnesota’s congressional delegation, rolled to a win over Amane Badhasso in the St. Paul-area 4th Congressional District. In the Minneapolis-centered 5th District, Rep. Ilhan Omar notched a narrow victory over former city council member Don Samuels.

In southern Minnesota, farmer and former lawmaker Brad Finstad secured a pair of wins: He won the Republican nomination for a two-year term up in November, and claimed victory in a special election to fill the remaining months of the late Rep. Jim Hagedorn’s term.

With all precincts reporting early Wednesday, Finstad held a lead of about 5,000 votes — about 4 percentage points — over his DFL opponent, former Hormel Foods CEO Jeff Ettinger.

“I think we were able to articulate and really, you know, hear the concerns of folks in regards to some of the major issues of our day,” Finstad said. “And it really starts with the cost of gas, and cost of food at the grocery store.”

Ettinger will get a rematch with Finstad this fall after prevailing in Tuesday’s DFL primary for the general election.

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Ettinger told MPR News on Wednesday morning that he's encouraged by his showing Tuesday despite losing the special election.

“We felt we outperformed the pundits and the polls,” he said. “Obviously we won big in our primary and we have momentum heading into November.”

Finstad said he thinks his incumbency — albeit brief — will give him an edge in the fall election so he can remain in Washington for a full term.

"That'll be an opportunity for us to show our leadership and, you know, just really dig in and get the work done," he said.

Turnout overall for the August primary was struggling to match 2018 and 2020 — around 22 percent of eligible voters in each of those — due to a lack of competitive races high on the ballot.

Map of Minnesota US House District 5
Minnesota U.S. House District 5
Elisabeth Gawthrop | APM Research Lab

But the 5th District did provide some drama. After runaway wins in two prior elections, Omar squeezed out a few percentage point victory over Samuels. He campaigned against Omar on her stances toward public safety funding and questioned whether she was too outspoken; Omar defended her record on both counts.

A woman speaks in a microphone
Rep. Ilhan Omar speaks with the media members outside the Dinkytown Target after polls close in Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

“Millions of dollars have been spent to unseat us. Republicans and conservative Democrats have worked in lockstep to vote us out. Corporations and special interest groups have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads against us,” Omar said in a statement after her win was declared. “Pundits and news agencies have tried to smear us and undermine our work.”

As he delivered a concession, Samuels said he spoke for an “exhausted” segment of the electorate but knew he was up against the advantages of incumbency.

“We had to climb over the huge barrier of a DFL endorsement from a DFL that has lost touch with the voters,” Samuels said, adding that he hoped Omar took notice. “We will work with her and give her all the support we can. We're not going to sabotage. The message has been sent. The people have spoken. Now the question is, the lesson must be learned.”

A man talks at a podium
Don Samuels at The Canopy by Hilton after polls closed in Minneapolis on Tuesday. Samuels conceded to Ilhan Omar for the 5th congressional district seat in the primary election.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

In statewide races, DFL Gov. Tim Walz trounced frequent candidate Ole Savior to win the DFL nomination. And Republican governor candidate Scott Jensen, who won his party’s endorsement in May, also scored an easy win over Republicans Bob Carney and Joyce Lacey on the GOP ballot.

Jensen and Walz have been girding for a tough campaign for months and both leaned into their messaging.

“Minnesota has rallied to overcome historic challenges, and together we’re making progress,” Walz said.

“While tonight's victory may have been more of a formality, it's still a clear signal that Minnesotans want safer streets, a world class education for their children, and an end to soaring inflation," Jensen said in his victory statement, which called on Walz to commit to a slate of debates.

A man smiles for a photo
Tim Walz arrives at Urban Growler Brewing in St. Paul, Minn. for an election results party for Betty McCollum on Tuesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

The two marijuana parties, which enjoy elevated status in Minnesota, also had primaries to decide their gubernatorial nominees.

The only statewide primary race with much intrigue was for attorney general. First-time candidate and private attorney Jim Schultz carried the Republican endorsement into his matchup with former state Rep. Doug Wardlow, who was the party’s 2018 nominee. Schultz won the matchup by nearly 20 points.

Schultz will advance to a fall campaign against DFL Attorney General Keith Ellison, who skated by DFL challenger Bill Dahn. The attorney general’s election could be one of the fiercest and most expensive Minnesota has seen, with Republicans sensing opportunity around an office they haven’t held in 50 years.

There were scattered primaries for the Legislature as well.

Some Republican incumbents, including several from the GOP Senate majority, had serious challenges from the right. But they appeared on course to prevail.

DFL Rep. John Thompson was defeated by party-endorsed candidate Liz Lee. Thompson had several high-publicized incidents that led most of his DFL House colleagues to abandon him.

Of the other legislative primaries most in the spotlight:

  • Senate District 5 in northern Minnesota: Republican Sen. Paul Utke had a sizable edge over endorsed candidate Bret Bussman and another candidate, Dale Anderson.

  • Senate District 10 in central Minnesota: There was a close race in an open seat where former legislators Jim Newberger and Steve Wenzel were among those vying for the GOP nod. But a third candidate, wildlife biologist Nathan Wesenberg, was on top.

  • Senate District 23 in southern Minnesota: Republican Sen. Gene Dornink was up big over challenger and restaurant owner Lisa Hanson.

  • Senate District 54 in the Prior Lake area: Republican Sen. Eric Pratt topped endorsed candidate Natalie Barnes.

  • Senate District 56 in the Apple Valley area: former DFL state Rep. Erin Maye Quade coasted by endorsed candidate Justin Emmerich.

  • Senate District 62 in Minneapolis: DFL Sen. Omar Fateh notched a victory over well-connected rival in Shaun Laden.

  • Senate District 65 in St. Paul: longtime DFL Sen. Sandy Pappas broke away from two competitive challengers in Zuki Ellis and Sheigh Freeberg.

  • House District 50B in the Bloomington area: DFL Rep. Steve Elkins won an incumbent faceoff against Rep. Andrew Carlson.

  • House District 52A in Eagan: Rep. Liz Reyer was the DFL victor in another incumbent matchup with Rep. Sandra Masin.

  • House District 54A in Shakopee: Republican state Rep. Erik Mortensen beat former GOP state Rep. Bob Loonan.

Other newly open seats after the once-per-decade redistricting also attracted multiple candidate fields to be narrowed in the party primary.

Down the ballot were key local races, including two in the most populous Hennepin County.

Voters there sent former public defender Mary Moriarty into a November election for Hennepin County attorney against former judge Martha Holton Dimick.

In that county’s open sheriff’s race, Dawanna Witt advanced to a race against Joseph Banks.

Two women celebrate and raise their hands
Martha Holton Dimick (right) celebrates after Minnesota's primary election on Tuesday. Holton Dimick is one of two top Hennepin County attorney candidates advancing to the general election, along with Mary Moriarty, who took the lead with over 36 percent of the vote.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

MPR News reporter Mark Zdechlik contributed to this report.

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