When Republicans in southern Minnesota rejected their party's endorsed candidate Tuesday in favor of businessman Jim Hagedorn, they picked a tough campaigner with deep roots in the 1st District.
Hagedorn, of Blue Earth, vigorously took on GOP-endorsed Aaron Miller, whom he faulted for not running an aggressive campaign. He promises a tough race against Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, who is seeking a fifth term.
As he did in the primary, Hagedorn will be able to count on strong name recognition. His father Tom represented southern Minnesota in Congress from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s.
A one-time aide to former U.S. Rep. Arlan Stangeland, Hagedorn held positions with the federal Treasury Department before returning to Minnesota in 2009. He's banking on a strong showing for Republicans during the mid-term elections this fall and is convinced that his anti-Obama, anti-big government, anti-regulation message is attractive to southern Minnesota voters.
"We speak with people all the time that say, 'I used to support Congressman Walz and even overlook his liberal voting record because I thought he was good, for instance, for veterans,'" Hagedorn said. "But now they're disappointed with the scandals in Washington. They're disappointed with the people in Washington, that they're not even handling those issues. So I think we have an opportunity in this election to appeal to a great range of voters."
Hagedorn sought the GOP endorsement for Congress in the 1st District in 2010 but failed to win it.
His path to the 2014 general election ballot for the Republican slot against Walz was unconventional. He ran for the party endorsement, lost it, dropped out of the race and then changed his mind and got back in to handily defeat Miller in the primary.
Hagedorn said he won by mounting an "insurgency campaign," which he said is an approach Republicans need to take to defeat Walz.
"A lot of that is aggressively taking him on in the issues, getting in the newspapers and so forth, letting people know where you stand," Hagedorn said. "And also, I think, shoe leather, getting across the district spending your time. The one advantage a challenger has is a lot of time. The congressman is in Washington doing other things."
Although his primary win will give him momentum, Hagedorn is struggling to raise money and that puts him at a disadvantage. He had just $9,000 in campaign cash as of the latest Federal Election Commission reporting deadline on July 23. Walz had more than $500,000.
But Hagedorn said major donors will emerge if he can demonstrate he can mount a viable campaign against Walz.
Walz declined an interview request and deferred to DFL Party Chair Ken Martin.
Martin said Hagedorn's political philosophy runs far right of most voters in southern Minnesota.
"He's decided to cozy up with tea party extremists," Martin said. "These are the same extremists who shut down [the] federal government, and have been the main people that were responsible for the delay in getting a farm bill done."
Two years ago Walz won re-election by more than 15 percentage points. But in 2010 — the last non-presidential election year — his margin of victory was much slimmer, slightly more than 5 percentage points.
Martin said he's concerned about turnout but confident Walz will retain his seat in the House.
"Tim Walz has done such a remarkable job for the people of the 1st Congressional District that even with a dip in turnout I think he'll be fine," Martin said. "Again, we're not taking anything for granted. If we do our job and get the message out there we should be able to prevail on November 4th."