Hagedorn, sole Republican running, sees path to a seat in Congress

Republican Jim Hagedorn campaigns in St. Charles, Minn.
Republican Jim Hagedorn shook hands and campaigned in the Gladiolus Day parade in St. Charles, Minn., on Sunday
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

When Tim Walz announced in March that he'd run for governor rather than re-election to his seat in Congress, his fellow Democrats scrambled to announce campaigns.

Six of them are competing for the DFL nomination next year, but there's only one Republican in the race: Blue Earth native Jim Hagedorn.

Hagedorn, 55, ran in the 2014 and 2016 elections, and thinks 2018 will be the year he finally succeeds. His platform: shrinking the size and scope of the federal government, securing the borders, and outlawing abortion. "I want to partner with the president," Hagedorn said.

Hagedorn said he never stopped campaigning after losing to Walz last fall in the 1st District, which spans the southern part of the state from Wisconsin to South Dakota.

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Walz squeaked out a win by less than 1 percentage point as Donald Trump won the 1st District by nearly 15 points. Hagedorn echoes Trump's "drain the swamp" talk, even though his father Tom was a congressman and Jim spent most of his career as a congressional staffer and Washington bureaucrat.

Republican Jim Hagedorn hopes he can win his third bid for Congress .
Hagedorn hopes he can win his third bid for Congress.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Federal campaign reports show Hagedorn has raised almost five times more than he had during this stage of the campaign two years ago. He's also won endorsements from high-profile Republicans including U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer and former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz.

And Hagedorn said his unwavering support for the president will help him too. "The people who supported President Trump in the last election, the people who almost got us over the finish line in the last election, they're not upset with the president," Hagedorn said. "They're really upset with Washington, particularly Republicans in the Senate who have dragged their heels."

But Democratic Party leaders see a different political landscape. They're hoping dissatisfaction with Trump will hurt Hagedorn and other Republicans in next year's election.

As Hagedorn was campaigning at the Gladiolus Days parade in St. Charles, Minn., recently, Dick Dahl was driving a van in the parade promoting DFL candidates. Many people have gotten involved in politics since Trump won to oppose the new president, Dahl said.

"I don't think most people view his policies as good for our country or for the people," Dahl said.

Dick Dahl drives a van promoting DFL candidates.
Dick Dahl drives a van promoting DFL candidates in the Gladiolus Day parade in St. Charles, Minn., Sunday.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

But that was not always clear along the parade route. St. Charles resident Michael Hughes, a steelworker, said his union background means he should probably be voting for Democrats. But Hughes said he'll likely vote for someone like Hagedorn who wants to help Trump — not oppose him.

"I like what he's doing as far as what he's trying to do, it's just that I don't like the way the public is fighting him on trying to get the job done," Hughes said.

While Republicans and Trump supporters are bullish on their chances to flip the 1st District, some prominent political analysts rate the race as a toss-up, meaning they think neither side has an advantage right now.

"I think the 1st District is going to get an extraordinary amount of national attention," said Nathan Gonzales, who publishes the Inside Elections newsletter.

Gonzales said the big unknown is how voters who sent Trump to the White House will feel a year from now about his presidency.

"Midterm elections are often a struggle for the president's party," he said, "and that means sometimes that the president's party has difficulty winning seats that they should win under normal circumstances."

Clarification (Sept. 1, 2017): This story has been updated to clarify that Jim Hagedorn, not his father, was a congressional staffer and Washington bureaucrat.