Accusations intensify in third, final Minn. governor debate

DFL Gov. Tim Walz and Republican opponent Scott Jensen lambasted each other's records with increased intensity and established a stark contrast in their visions for Minnesota in their third and final debate before the Nov. 8 election.

With less than two weeks until Election Day, Friday's hourlong contest carried on Minnesota Public Radio frequently veered into accusations, sometimes getting personal. The candidates talked over one another as they tried to use the last debate to define their opponent and gain an edge with voters.

"Scott's vision is a dark and fearful vision of Minnesota," said Walz, who tried to frame his rival as an extremist. "We offer up solutions to the toughest problems, making sure we're fully funding our public schools, making sure that we're investing in moving Minnesota's economy forward and being a leader on climate change."

Jensen took a sharper tack than in previous debates, trying to keep Walz on edge on issues such as COVID-19 and crime.

"Tim Walz failed. Minnesota is more broken, or fractured or deeply divided than I can remember in my lifetime," said Jensen, who called Walz's "One Minnesota" promise a "sham." "We've had Minnesotans crying out for the last two and half years, 'Where's our governor?' He quit."

Some of the most tense exchanges during the debate came over the candidates' visions for how to keep Minnesota prosperous. Walz criticized Jensen's idea to eliminate the state's personal income tax, which he said would blow a hole in the state's budget and lead to cuts elsewhere.

Jensen said he's offered the idea as a point of discussion and wished Walz would have a conversation about it.

"I didn't talk to you, Scott, because you quit the Legislature," said Walz to Jensen, who served one term in the state Senate.

"You quit the National Guard," Jensen fired back at Walz. "I retired because my wife had to have some surgeries. But nice shot, Tim." After the debate, Walz said he's proud of his 24 years in the Guard.

There was no levity nor friendly exchanges. After Walz responded to a question, Jensen said "I almost fell asleep" and told the governor twice to "take a breath, Tim." Walz frequently criticized Jensen for getting banned from several social media platforms, saying "if Scott is talking about things, there's misinformation in it."

Walz is seeking a second term after a tumultuous four years that included the pandemic and unrest that broke out following George Floyd's killing by a Minneapolis police officer.

Jensen, a family physician from Chaska, repeated some of his skepticism of vaccines and COVID-19 death certificates that launched him into the national spotlight and fueled his rise in the Republican Party.

"I think it's been pretty well established that locking kids out of school was a horrible decision," Jensen said to Walz, noting that test scores have dropped since the start of the pandemic. "Maybe you get a first 10 days pass."

The governor defended his pandemic response, saying he consulted with medical experts to make the best decisions with what information was known. He criticized Jensen for "demonizing" those same experts and making things harder by spreading misinformation.

"Scott is like Bruce Wayne, he just thinks you just push a bat signal," said Walz. "That's not how it works as governor, a governor works with the folks who are experts."

For months, the issue of abortion has been front-and-center in many of the ads in the governor's race, but it was only briefly touched on in the debate, as the two candidates sparred more intensely over COVID, crime and whether state officials could have done more to stop the fraud scandal involving a federal nutrition program.

Walz and Jensen had two previous debates, one on the stage at Farmfest in August and another earlier this month with greater Minnesota television stations.

After their final debate, both candidates said they plan to barnstorm the state in the final 11 days to continue making their case to voters. They acknowledged the tenor of the debate was more negative than in the past, reflecting both the intensity of the race and the national political climate.

"It's not for the faint-hearted," Jensen said. "Politics can be very tawdry."