Minnesota Republican caucusgoers gave gubernatorial hopeful Dr. Scott Jensen a campaign boost Tuesday night.
Jensen, an outspoken vaccine skeptic who once called for "civil disobedience" over pandemic-related public health measures, won the Minnesota GOP's straw poll for governor.
A former state senator for Chaska, he garnered about 38% of all votes (with 93% of precincts reporting) from registered caucus attendees, who cast their ballots in secret at precinct caucuses throughout the state.
"Yesterday, every-day Minnesotans were the heroes, and they will be again in November," Jensen said on Twitter in response to the results. "People from all walks of life stepped into the arena & came out in droves to support our movement. I'm humbled by the support our campaign received. Let's unify and win!"
While not enough for a majority, Jensen's 6,144 votes far outpaced the five other named gubernatorial candidates on the ballot.
Former Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka finished second at 14% (2,206 votes), with newcomer to the race Kendall Qualls and Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy both reaching about 11% (though Qualls, it should be noted, received 58 more votes in all).
The Minnesota Reformer notes Jensen has raised about $1.2 million in his bid for governor, more than double the amount Gazelka has brought in so far.
This caucus preference ballot is not binding. Rather, it's a first look at the direction Republican voters in the state are leaning as election season officially ramps up. The party will officially endorse a candidate at the state convention May 13-14 in Rochester.
Jensen has put pandemic-related policies front and center in his campaign, touting unproven COVID treatments during appearances at events alongside noted anti-vaxxers, and briefly supporting a larger lawsuit to block child COVID vaccinations.
At one point he said he was under investigation by the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice over claims he was spreading misinformation after he claimed Minnesota's COVID death stats were being exaggerated. He said last year that he had not been vaccinated, but that he had antibodies from a previous bout of COVID (the CDC still recommends those who have had COVID get vaccinated).
He was also banned from TikTok for breaching its misinformation on COVID-19 guidelines, while his account was restricted on Facebook after his page "repeatedly posted content that has been debunked by third-party fact-checkers."
In September, he called for "civil disobedience" over the federal government's COVD vaccine and testing rules, though he has denied he is anti-vaccination.
Jensen has also decried "lawlessness," and said science should guide pandemic-related policy decisions. He also backs the expansion of medical marijuana in Minnesota, as well as the expungement of low-level marijuana crimes from criminal records, but his website stops short of calling for the wider decriminalization of the drug as seen in other states.