MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday officially announced he is seeking a second term in the state’s top job, making his response to COVID-19 a centerpiece of his campaign.

In a video announcement early Tuesday morning, Walz leaned into his pandemic record, showcasing it as evidence that he is a leader who can make “tough calls.”

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He used a sports metaphor to describe the fight against COVID-19 and Republican policies as obstacles blunting recovery. More than a half-dozen candidates are seeking the GOP nomination to unseat him.

“The fight’s not over but we got the ball back,” Walz says in the video. “We’re on offense and we’re making progress. But the same people who blocked us are trying to take us backwards.”

Halfway through Walz’s first term in office, his administration was met with an unprecedented pandemic and the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis that touched off protests and civil unrest in the Twin Cities and beyond.

Gov. Tim Walz (credit: CBS)

A former Mankato schoolteacher, he served 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives before successfully running for governor in 2018. While COVID-19 has defined his first term, the governor also touted his administration’s efforts on the economy, education and police reform in his first official re-election pitch to voters.

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recent poll from the Star Tribune and others last month showed Walz’s favorability had fallen below 50%, which represents a drop of eight percentage points. Republicans for months have slammed Walz’s decisions during the pandemic, including mask mandates, shutdowns and his use of emergency powers, which the legislature voted to end in the summer. 

Those criticisms are already carrying over to the 2022 race as GOP contenders face off for the nomination.

“No amount of buffalo plaid or hot dish will distract voters from the fact that Minnesota is in shambles,” said Preya Samsundar, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

But Republicans here in recent memory have faced an uphill climb in winning statewide office. The last GOP candidate to do so was former Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2006. And no Republican has won by a majority statewide since 1996, said Larry Jacobs, a professor and state politics expert at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

“In the last three gubernatorial races, the Republican candidate has not won more than 45%,” said Jacobs. “That’s the challenge they have right now. If they’re going to run on an anti-COVID, vaccine mandate, social distancing, I don’t know if that’s where most Minnesotans are at this point.”

Walz faces his own hurdles. There are fissures in the party between the more progressive and moderate wings, and he will need to appeal to both in order to win. And historically, the DFL turnout is lower in mid-term than general election years, Jacobs said.

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“The big challenge for Gov. Walz is can he mobilize his base or are they going to sit out the election and second, can he win over the suburbs,” Jacobs said.

Caroline Cummings