Television ads are flooding the Minnesota airwaves in the race for governor, as both candidates try to define themselves — and their opponent — in the sprint to Election Day.
The vast majority of the ads are from DFL Gov. Tim Walz and aligned groups, attacking Republican Scott Jensen for past comments on school funding and abortion access in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade. In his first TV ad of the cycle, which began airing this week, Jensen attempts to counter that narrative, saying Walz is "weaponizing the issue" of abortion.
"In Minnesota, [abortion] is a protected constitutional right and no governor can change that. And I'm not running to do that," said Jensen, a physician, holding his grandbaby in the ad and telling the viewer he's delivered 500 babies in his career. "I'm running because we need safe streets, excellent schools, parental rights and more money in the family budget."
But Jensen's ad will be seen by far fewer Minnesotans than those attacking him on abortion, according to filings with the Federal Communications Commission. The DFL-aligned political fund Alliance for a Better Minnesota, in partnership with the national Democratic Governors Association, has been on the air for weeks with ads against Jensen and reserved millions of dollars' worth in total airtime through Election Day.
A new KSTP/SurveyUSA poll released Tuesday shows that the attacks could be hurting Jensen, who is trailing Walz in the poll by 18 percentage points. That's a dramatic shift in the race from polling conducted earlier this summer and spring showing Jensen behind Walz only slightly.
"If you're telling women you're going to restrict their choices and their sovereignty and you're going to try and ban abortion services, people need to know that. And when we're starting back to school and you say you're going to defund education, people need to know that," Walz said at a news conference Wednesday. "What the ads do is they educate people on where they're at."
Alliance for a Better Minnesota released its third ad this week attacking Jensen for saying in a March interview with MPR News that he would work to ban abortion as governor. Jensen has shifted his stance since the reversal of Roe in June, noting that a state Supreme Court ruling protects abortion access in Minnesota.
But the alliance's ads have exclusively highlighted his past comments, including an ad in which women and doctors react to audio of Jensen saying he would ban abortions. In the latest ad, a woman says she found out at 20 weeks of pregnancy that her son wasn't going to survive.
"We had to make the most difficult decision we've ever had to make. We chose to terminate the pregnancy," said Shannon, described in the ad as a mother of two. "I can't imagine letting anyone make that decision for me, certainly not Scott Jensen."
Walz has also been on the air since late July, releasing three different ads focusing on the state's workforce, schools and his response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In his latest ad, Walz is seen pacing the hallways of a school with students while a teacher attacks Jensen for saying he would cut funding for schools in a past interview.
The governor's campaign has already reserved hundreds of thousands of dollars of ads, including a blitz of TV spots after early voting starts on Sept. 23 and from Halloween until Election Day on Nov. 8. Ad reservations can be changed or canceled if a candidate decides to put campaign resources elsewhere.
Jensen's ad buy is nearly seven figures for the month of September, according to the campaign, and will hit digital, networks and cable television. His campaign said the ad is designed to "counter the dishonest attacks" on the issue of abortion, while introducing him as a family doctor and grandfather.
The campaign has also installed "Safer Streets" billboards around the state, and Jensen campaigned all 12 days at the Minnesota State Fair. But Jensen is trailing Walz in fundraising in the race for governor, making it harder to get his message on the air, and outside GOP groups haven't invested heavily in the race at this point.
The Republican-aligned Freedom Club flew a banner over the fair with the words "WALZ FAILED" and has created a one-minute YouTube video attacking the governor on rising crime rates in the state. The group is trying to raise money to put the ad on the air.