Debate recap: Jensen and Gazelka spar, Shah emerges as threat

Alpha News hosted a debate between the five Republican candidates vying to become Minnesota's next governor. Sen. Paul Gazelka and Dr. Scott Jensen sparred, but outsider Dr. Neil Shah won the post-debate straw poll after launching pointed attacks at Gazelka.

Five Republicans seeking to be the next governor of Minnesota take the stage Wednesday at Providence Academy in Plymouth, Minnesota. (Alpha News)

Alpha News co-hosted a debate Wednesday night between five Republicans vying for their party’s endorsement to be the next governor of Minnesota.

Sen. Michelle Benson, Sen. Paul Gazelka, Dr. Scott Jensen, Mayor Mike Murphy, and Dr. Neil Shah all participated, speaking for two hours on a variety of important and controversial questions.

Overall, relatively little verbal sparring took place, although Jensen and Gazelka each took turns criticizing each other.

Jensen implied that Gazelka’s campaign tactics misrepresented work Jensen did while a medical student. “I was shocked to get phone calls from delegates around Minnesota saying that Sen. Gazelka was calling them saying I worked at Planned Parenthood,” he reported during a discussion on abortion. Jensen told Alpha News that he worked there for half a day, once a month, dealing with routine women’s health issues and STD care.

“I’ve never done an abortion, I’ve never seen an abortion,” he said during the debate.

Gazelka also took aim at Jensen’s record on gun rights. “He did author two anti-Second Amendment bills, one of them universal background checks,” Gazelka said. Jensen countered, saying he would sign a bill to allow permitless, constitutional carry for all Minnesota adults.

All other candidates also said they would sign such a bill, which would abolish the concealed-carry permit system and allow adults ages 18-20 to carry handguns — which they are not presently allowed to do.

Outsider Neil Shah also set Gazelka in his sights, although he did not receive a direct response.

Some pundits criticized Shah for his directness, but the audience apparently favored him as he won the straw poll that took place immediately after the debate.

The next closest contender was Benson, who earned 15% of votes:

  • Dr. Neil Shah: 48.5%
  • Sen. Michelle Benson: 15%
  • Dr. Scott Jensen: 14.1%
  • Mayor Mike Murphy: 12.1%
  • Sen. Paul Gazelka: 10.2%

The debate also received national attention from liberals, who praised co-moderator Hugh Hewitt for opening the conversation by asking each candidate if they believe President Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election. “Very happy to see [Hugh] forcing the issue,” Atlantic writer Tim Alberta tweeted, responding to a similar post from Democratic consultant Tim Hogan. “This should be the first question asked of every Republican candidate (and incumbent) running for public office.”

Murphy and Benson each had their memorable moments as well.

Benson earned the respect and applause of the audience when it was announced that she chose to take the stage even after her father passed away earlier in the week.

Despite this tragic obstacle, she delivered pointed answers, touting her pro-life record and pro-farmer ideas. “We make it really hard to farm in Minnesota. We have some of the best land in the world, and we make it hard, and we threaten to take their land,” she said.

Although all the candidates were tough on crime, Murphy was arguably the toughest, saying Minnesota needs to fill its empty jail space with “the hardened criminals.”

This is a stance he has consistently adopted, making it a central theme of his campaign messaging.

The candidates also discussed their faith, refugee resettlement, Minnesota’s emergency powers statute, and more.

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