Capitol Watch: 2022 election was all about abortion

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2022 Election Recap

It’s been almost a month since the 2022 election, so it’s time for your esteemed editors at Capitol Watch to provide our expert analysis about what happened. By expert analysis, we simply mean our best guess, since trying to figure out the behavior of Minnesota voters is harder than predicting how the Vikings are going to play on any given Sunday. 

It’s all about abortion

Believe it or not, the story of the 2022 election began on January 22, 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court announced their decision in Roe vs. Wade, setting conservatives in this country on a 50-year battle to overturn the decision. Years of hard work, education, advocacy and eventually winning enough presidential and U.S. Senate elections finally paid off as the court overturned Roe and sent the abortion issue back to the states. It was biggest policy victory for conservatives in 50 years.

Meanwhile, the 2022 mid-term election was setting up to be a red wave with President Biden’s approval rating at historic lows and inflation at historic highs. All the metrics pointed to a great year nationally and here in Minnesota.

Call it God’s sense of humor, but the red wave was abruptly interrupted by the Dobbs decision in June, flipping the abortion dynamic upside down, with the pro-abortion side suddenly having to fight for their position. For 50 years, pro-abortion voters had the luxury of making their voting decisions on other issues as the Roe decision provided a safety net for legal abortion.

At first it appeared the Dobbs decision came early enough in the election cycle for voter concern to peak and come back down to normal. “Normal” meant abortion would be a prominent issue for voters (as it has in every election since 1974) with perhaps a little more intensity on the pro-abortion side. The final KSTP poll on November 1, 2022 reported most voters were concerned about the economy (30%) and inflation (15%), with only 21% concerned about abortion.

On election day, a lot more than 21% cast their vote based on the abortion issue. The most important office for abortion voters was the governor, as pro-lifer Scott Jensen found out when he received fewer votes than the other Republicans running statewide.

The good news for conservatives is that the abortion issue will calm down over the next two years and return to its normal place in the 2024 election. That’s especially true in Minnesota where our Doe vs. Gomez decision enshrines the “right” to abortion in the Minnesota constitution. Abortion will be important in 2024, but not the deciding factor for most voters.

Money still matters in elections

It didn’t help that Tim Walz’s allies spent millions beating up Jensen with attack ads, mostly focused on abortion. Not enough has been written about the special interests that pour millions of dollars into the DFL machine each election. Public employee unions in Minnesota and nationally contributed millions to keep Democrats like Tim Walz in office, all expecting a return on their investment. There’s never been a more obvious pay to play relationship. The Minnesota media reports the horse race aspect of campaign fundraising, (“Democrats outraised their Republican opponents 10-1 this cycle”) without going into detail about where the money came from and what is expected in return.

At this point we only have preliminary numbers on campaign spending, since state law doesn’t require reports on the final two weeks of the campaign until February 1, 2023. The invention of the Internet should have caused that law to change years ago. Reporting of campaign donations and expenditures should happen in real time.

Education Minnesota spent $4 million on the 2022 campaign and will be rewarded with “fully funded” education, guaranteeing raises for every union member.

Other public employee unions such as ASFCME ($4 million), MAPE ($500,000) and SEIU ($2 million) spent heavily and will be rewarded with better pay, better pensions and more public sector jobs. The nurses union kicked in $500,000 and are in good position to receive their top legislative agenda, a nurse staffing ratio that will force hospitals to pay for more nurses, whether they need them or not. And we wonder why health care costs so much.

In addition to unions, the DFL machine received their normal allotment of $2 million from Alida Messinger, a Rockefeller heiress and former wife to Gov. Mark Dayton. Despite Republican hopes, her giving hasn’t waned since Dayton left office. Minnesota Democrats also received $1.5 million from State Victory Action, a fund associated with billionaire liberal donor George Soros and $225,000 from an organization called Toolbox with an address in Alexandria, Virginia. We are still searching for any information on this group — so far all we have is their name and a post office box. Should that concern anyone?

A lot of this money was eventually funneled to the Alliance for a Better Minnesota. ABM prepared the attack ads against Jensen using abortion as the main theme. The Star Tribune wrote a profile of ABM after the election rightfully crediting them with the victory. Several Republican “analysts” quoted in post-election news stories said, “We should get us one of those ABM things,” which, of course, is brilliant analysis. Until you ask where the money will come from to match the unions and national Democratic money.

The Trump effect

We made it through most of the campaign without Donald Trump causing Minnesota Republicans any problems. But then he saw some positive momentum from the Jensen campaign in a poll and decided he could attach his name and endorsement to a possible winner. Jensen did not ask for the endorsement and certainly didn’t want the attention it created. Democrats and the media used the Trump endorsement to distract voters from other issues. It was too easy.

And then Trump made it worse for Republicans here and across the country days before the 2022 election hinting he was going to announce another run for the presidency. You could feel swing voters everywhere pause and say, “I want to vote on the economy and inflation, but now Trump is coming back in the picture? No thanks.”

Trump’s bad timing and the abortion decision were enough to derail Scott Jensen’s campaign and pave the way for a convincing victory by Tim Walz. The Jensen campaign made some mistakes but none of them were big enough to matter given the environment. Walz was rewarded for refusing to debate and hiding in the basement of the governor’s residence for most of the campaign.

The rest of the ticket

One of the undercurrents of the election was the hope that a few of the other statewide races could go Republican even if Jensen lost at the top of the ticket. That rarely happens in Minnesota, and it didn’t happen in 2022. The GOP ticket fractured at the end of the campaign with Attorney General candidate Jim Schultz and Auditor candidate Ryan Wilson refusing to campaign with Jensen, notably absent from the traditional fly-around during the last week. Wilson and Schultz even planned their own “victory” party at a different hotel. While the GOP undercard received more votes than Jensen, none of them had to withstand millions of dollars in attack ads on abortion. There’s not enough room for error for Minnesota Republicans not to stay unified.

The legislature

Abortion politics also derailed hopes for Republicans to take over the State House and keep the Senate. Capitol Watch will provide a more detailed look at what happened in legislative races in a future issue.

On December 6, 2022, the budget forecast will be released, setting the stage for the 2023 budget debate. Early indications are predicting a very large surplus, especially since lawmakers and Gov. Walz failed to come to any agreement last May.

Capitol Watch will have all the details in the next issue — sign up below to receive it in your email first!

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