Meet the candidates vying to replace Jim Hagedorn
Voters in Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District sent Jim Hagedorn to Congress twice, and as the district trended more Republican, he was favored to be re-elected for a third term.
But Hagedorn died last month of cancer, which has prompted an August special election for the open seat before the regular general election race in November that will be decided by voters in a 1st District redrawn following the 2020 Census.
The district — which runs from the Wisconsin border to the South Dakota border and includes Rochester, Mankato, Winona, New Ulm, Albert Lea, Austin, Luverne and Worthington — was held by Democrats as recently as 2016, when DFLer Tim Walz, who is now the governor, won his sixth term in Congress representing the area.
Twenty candidates filed to run for the office before Tuesday’s deadline. Those congressional hopefuls will first run in a May 24 primary before the Aug. 9 special election, the winner of which will represent the district under its current boundaries before the winner of the November regular election takes over.
Ten Republicans are vying to replace Hagedorn, including two state lawmakers, one former legislator and the former head of the state Republican Party.
That former head of the Minnesota GOP is Jennifer Carnahan, who will be a controversial figure in the race. Carnahan married Hagedorn in 2018 and said this week that her husband wanted her to run for his office before he died in February. But Carnahan resigned as state GOP chair after a scandal-plagued tenure, and Republicans have not cleared the field for her candidacy.
Also in the race are two state legislators: Rep. Nels Pierson, a Rochester Republican and president of a construction company who is serving his fourth term in the state House; and Lake Crystal Rep. Jeremy Munson, a conservative first elected in 2018 and who broke from the state House GOP to form the right-wing “New House Republican” caucus.
Former state House member Brad Finstad of New Ulm is also running. After leaving the House, Finstad worked as an official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the Trump administration, focusing on rural development.
The Minnesota GOP isn’t holding an endorsing convention for the special election because local party units were dissolved for redistricting. Republicans from the 1st District will, however, endorse someone in April for Congress “as part of the reapportionment process,” according to a statement from party chairman David Hann.
There are eight candidates on the DFL side, including former Hormel CEO Jeff Ettinger; Sarah Brakebill-Hacke, a political consultant and advocate for the unhoused; Red Wing bookstore owner Rick DeVoe; Candice Deal-Bartell, an early childhood education advocate and founder of a child care business in Mankato; and Richard Painter, the University of Minnesota law professor and former ethics lawyer for the George W. Bush administration who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Sen Tina Smith in a 2018 primary run for Senate.
The last person to file for the race was Haroun McClellan, a candidate for the Grassroots Legalize Cannabis party. Richard B. Reisdorf is also running as a Legal Marijuana Now party candidate.
The 1st District is heavy on agriculture and medicine, home to Hormel and the Mayo Clinic. And in the GOP primary, many are touting their farming credentials.
In interviews, several Republican candidates cited high gas prices, a desire for U.S. energy independence, plans to reduce inflation and also opposition to COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates.
But there are differences in what issues candidates tend to focus on most. Munson, the legislator from Lake Crystal who noted his farming and business background, contrasted himself with more moderate candidates in the race, saying he has been taking “bold stances that the primary voters have asked legislators to do,” nodding to Republican base voters furious with COVID-19 mandates and skeptical of, or who outright reject, the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Munson touts that he introduced the first resolution at the Capitol to end Gov. Tim Walz’s peacetime emergency related to COVID-19, filed lawsuits against Walz over COVID-19 restrictions and against Secretary of State Steve Simon to seek a delay in certifying the 2020 election results. (The lawsuit against Walz was unsuccessful and Minnesota’s election results were certified.)
But he also said the people he talks to are also fired up about having a voice in their child’s education and making sure children “are not being indoctrinated” in schools.
Perhaps the best known candidate is Carnahan. She has some victories from her time at the helm of the state GOP between 2017 and 2021: She cleared a huge debt the party had amassed and Republicans flipped the 1st, 7th and 8th Congressional Districts from blue to red during her tenure. Her website also features pictures of her with Donald Trump and says on the front page that she is a “Trump Republican.”
Yet Trump also lost Minnesota in the 2020 presidential election, and in 2018 GOP candidates lost every race for statewide office along with the 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts.
Carnahan also resigned as chair of the state GOP last year after a top party donor who she had close ties to, Anton Lazzaro, was indicted on charges of sex trafficking minors. She also faced accusations that there was a toxic work environment and sexual harassment within the state party during her time leading it.
Carnahan has said she had no knowledge of Lazzaro’s alleged activities, and she has also denied allegations that she permitted a toxic culture.
Democrats hope for an upset
So far, the Democratic field has been quieter. No candidates have won public office before.
Ettinger might be the most well-known candidate in the district. The long-time Austin resident led Hormel as CEO from 2005 until 2016, during which the company added 3,500 new jobs, according to his campaign. He now chairs The Hormel Foundation and serves on Gov. Tim Walz’s economic expansion council.
The first-time candidate said he’s still developing policy positions as he listens to voters, but he said his experience will help as people look to lower costs and strengthen supply chains. Ettinger also said he will aim to make prescription drugs more affordable and boost K-12 and higher education to help prepare everyone for the future economy.
Winning the 1st District will be an uphill battle for Democrats, especially since an incumbent president’s party tends to do poorly in midterm elections. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the district as “likely Republican.”
Yet Ettinger said the district isn’t so conservative as to be out of reach. It has flipped back-and-forth between the GOP and DFL before, and Ettinger said lately there has been a “winner-take-all” mentality in the last couple of years where the person representing the district cares only about GOP voters. He said he would provide bipartisan leadership that Walz offered and described Walz’s handling of the pandemic as a middle ground between more and less restrictive states.
Another DFL candidate, Deal-Bartell, said she is focused on efforts to provide accessible and affordable early childhood education, raising pay and benefits for workers, especially frontline pandemic workers and improving women’s rights.
Her strategy to win in a conservative-leaning district is to meet lots of people and in part to “make it a priority to hear the perspective of everybody, including constituents that aren’t Democrats.”
Painter, the university professor who challenged Smith and considered a third-party run for governor against Walz, said he’s planning to move to Faribault in April (he currently lives in Mendota Heights) and said he wants to boost affordable health care, address inflation and what he considers to be price gouging.
“Big railroads, big pork and poultry producers and energy companies have amassed monopoly power used to squeeze consumers and labor alike,” Painter said on Tuesday in a Twitter post.