Competitive 1st District race is backdrop to Trump visit

Jim Hagedorn
Jim Hagedorn, right, the Republican candidate in the 1st Congressional District, meets Jesse Neumann while door-knocking in a northwest Rochester, Minn., neighborhood on Sept. 28, 2018.
Jerry Olson for MPR News

Long before President Trump was in office, congressional candidate Jim Hagedorn was talking about some of the same issues that have defined the president's administration — stricter immigration rules, lower taxes and fewer regulations.

For Hagedorn, who has had a long career working in Washington, D.C., and is making his third run for the 1st Congressional District seat this year, Trump's visit is a timely and welcome development.

"We're excited about it," he said. "It's going to energize our party and give people another view of this campaign."

Trump is arriving in Rochester when competition between Hagedorn and his DFL opponent Dan Feehan is at a fever pitch.

Dan Feehan, right, chats with Austin resident Jerry Adams.
Dan Feehan, right, chats with Austin, Minn., resident Jerry Adams while door-knocking Tuesday. Feehan is running for the hotly contested 1st Congressional District seat in Minnesota against Republican Jim Hagedorn.
Jerry Olson for MPR News

DFL U.S. Rep. Tim Walz is making a bid for governor, which means the southern Minnesota district is open for the first time in more than a decade. The district favored President Barack Obama in previous elections but leaned decidedly for Trump two years ago.

Feehan is an Iraq War veteran and Obama administration employee who hasn't lived in Minnesota since he was a teenager. He has tapped a nationwide network of donors who support military candidates. He's raised more than $1 million compared to Hagedorn's roughly $850,000.

And outside political groups have spent roughly $3.5 million on campaign literature and ads.

Jim Hagedorn
Although no one was home, Jim Hagedorn unfurled a twisted American flag while knocking on doors in northwest Rochester.
Jerry Olson for MPR News

Feehan said that with negative ads on the airwaves, face-to-face campaigning is important for his campaign. He touts his military experience, teaching experience and willingness to work with Republicans in Congress.

On a recent dreary October evening, Feehan was going door-to-door in Austin, Minn. He made a stop at the home of Bonnie Tangren, who said she's voted for Democrats and Republicans in the past, but that Feehan likely has her vote this year.

She said she's unhappy with Trump and views a vote for Feehan as a vote against the president.

Tangren said the trade wars with China, Mexico and Canada have meant a financial hit for her family's soybean and corn operation.

Dan Feehan meets with supporters at The Coffee House.
Dan Feehan meets with supporters at The Coffee House in Austin.
Jerry Olson for MPR News

While it appears Trump has negotiated a resolution with Mexico and Canada, and the administration is offering a subsidy to help farmers who have lost money, Tangren said the uncertainty is still troubling.

"We're concerned about long-term markets," she said. "That's what we need. Once those markets go away, it's hard to get them back again."

Feehan said anxiety about trade is a common refrain in this rural part of the state. If elected, Feehan said he'd push to give Congress more say in trade negotiations.

"Trade is complicated stuff. And if you're not talking about the second and third order impacts, which are going to happen, then people like Southern Minnesotans are taking the brunt of it."

Jim Hagedorn
Jim Hagedorn speaks with Stacey Gallaugher while door-knocking in Rochester.
Jerry Olson for MPR News

Feehan said he hears concerns about health care a lot, too. He said he wants a solution that provides affordable coverage to everyone but hasn't settled on specific policies he would support.

Hagedorn said he hears about trade and health care a lot as well but sees solutions to those problems very differently.

While he's cautious about the effect tariffs have had on southern Minnesota's farming industry, Hagedorn said he supports Trump's trade moves as a way to get countries like China to negotiate with the U.S. And he supports dismantling the Affordable Care Act, which was intended to get more people health care coverage.

In that regard, Hagedorn said the difference between him and Feehan couldn't be clearer.

Dan Feehan speaks with supporters
Dan Feehan speaks with Greta Brosawsky, a foreign exchange student from Germany, at The Coffee House in Austin.
Jerry Olson for MPR News

He said he wants to "partner with President Trump. To have secure borders and a strong country, regulatory reform, tax reform, welfare reform, energy independence. That's what I offer."

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