New poll shows Walz holds lead in governor’s race

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(ABC 6 News) – An ABC 6 News exclusive SurveyUSA poll shows early predictions for the Minnesota governor’s race. Seven Republicans have thrown their hat into the ring attempting to unseat DFL Governor Tim Walz.

It’s still early days, but we’re starting to get an idea of key issues that may sway voters in the polls.

Former Senator Scott Jensen and Senator Paul Gazelka lead the GOP challengers, but Walz remains ahead. Walz leads Jensen by three points and leads Gazelka by five points. Experts expect that to remain for the next few months.

"I would just anticipate the polls will be sticking within that three to five percent range. Their poll numbers are a little bit better because they’re a little bit better known," said Chad Israelson, a history instructor at Rochester Community Technical College.

Of 690 Minnesotans interviewed, most have a favorable opinion, or are neutral about Governor Tim Walz. More favor Jensen than Gazelka, though most are neutral or have no opinion because it’s still early in the race, and their names aren’t as recognizable. Walz leads by between eight and 11 points for each of the other GOP candidates: Michelle Benson, Kendall Qualls, Mike Murphy and Neil Shah.

"Incumbents have a major advantage," Israelson said.

26 percent of people say the economy is most likely to influence their vote, while 19 percent said COVID response and 16 percent said crime and public safety.

"It’s really the here and now that people vote on."

So what’s next? The Minnesota GOP needs to choose their candidate to run against Walz, and then pick apart his track record from his last two years in office.

"The Republicans will attack Walz’s response to COVID. No doubt about that," Israelson said.

Though some say when it comes down to Walz and the chosen GOP candidate, they’ll stick to voting along party lines.

"The party lines are what I most believe in. At this point with the divisiveness in our government, I end up voting along party lines," said Debbie Peterson, a Minnesota resident.

SurveyUSA conducted this poll before former Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek announced his campaign earlier this week.

  • Plus 8 Tim Walz: 45% have a favorable opinion of Walz, 37% unfavorable; 14% are neutral. 4% have no opinion. Unchanged from 2 months ago.
  • Plus 6 Scott Jensen: 18% favorable, 12% unfavorable; 29% are neutral; 41% have no opinion. Jensen’s Net Favorability was Plus 4 in the last poll.
  • Minus 4 Mike Murphy: 11% favorable, 15% unfavorable; 28% are neutral; 47% have no opinion. Murphy is down from Plus 2 in December.
  • Minus 4 Kendall Qualls: 9% favorable, 13% unfavorable; 24% are neutral; 54% have no opinion. Qualls was not in the previous poll.
  • Minus 6 Michelle Benson: 9% favorable, 15% unfavorable; 33% are neutral; 43% have no opinion. Down 4 points from Minus 4 two months ago.
  • Minus 7 Paul Gazelka: 12% favorable, 19% unfavorable; 28% are neutral; 41% have no opinion. Down from Plus 2 in December’s polling.
  • Minus 7 Neil Shah: 8% favorable, 15% unfavorable; 27% are neutral; 50% have no opinion. Two months ago, Shah was at Minus 1.