Republicans battle to fill remainder of Hagedorn term

Green corn and soybean plants as far as the eye can see.
Corn and soybeans grow in a field outside of Sleepy Eye, Minn., on Wednesday, August 27.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2019

Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn’s death in February triggered odd electoral circumstances that are confusing many people in southern Minnesota.

That much is clear from a visit to a coffee shop and brew pub in downtown Sleepy Eye.

“I really, I’m not sure about that. No,” said Leon Zarn, 75, of Sleepy Eye, who didn’t know there are four elections for the seat in the coming months.

Patti Anderson, 69, of nearby New Ulm said she too is confused.

“I don’t even know who’s running,” Anderson said.

A man sits in a local business
Sleep Eye resident Leon "Red" Zarn said he didn't understand how the process of filling former Republican Congressman Jim Hagedorn's seat worked.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

The confusion isn’t surprising. 

MPR News is Reader Funded

Before you keep reading, take a moment to donate to MPR News. Your financial support ensures that factual and trusted news and context remain accessible to all.

Because of the timing of Hagedorn’s death, there will be a special election primary on May 24 followed by a special election that will take place on Aug. 9 to fill the remainder of Hagedorn’s term. Also on Aug. 9, there’s a primary to narrow the field for the general election in November that will elect a representative for the next two year regular term.

Hagedorn’s widow Jennifer Carnahan is one of 20 candidates in the initial primary race. The former chair of the state Republican Party said she’s running to continue her husband’s legacy.

“He did ask me to run,” said Carnahan, who recently became a full-time resident of Blue Earth. She is among 10 Republicans vying for the seat.

Eight DFLers and two legal marijuana candidates are also running. 

A woman smiles and talks.
Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan speaks with an attendant of a rally for President Trump in Bemidji, Minn., on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Carnahan and two other Republican candidates each raised more than $150,000 in the first three months of the year. 

She’s pledging to keep up former President Donald Trump’s fight. Like Trump, Carnahan takes aim at establishment Republicans as well as Democrats.

“We just can't have Republicans out in Washington that don't fully support standing with our conservative values," Carnahan said.

Last month Carnahan questioned the conservative credentials of fellow Republican candidate Brad Finstad, even though Finstad worked for the Trump Administration.  Finstad served in the Department of Agriculture under Trump.  He's also been a state legislator, the leader of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, and he worked for the state farm bureau.

A man stands near a crop field.
Brad Finstad of New Ulm says he has a track record of accomplishment that makes him the best choice for Republicans.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

“It's one thing to be conservative,” said Finstad, “It's one thing to be mad, but it's another thing to actually do something and get results. And my career has been about that.”

Finstad lives in New Ulm, and unlike Carnahan is a life-long resident of the district.  Finstad said he would likely vote in Congress very similar to the way Hagedorn did, but says he would have voted to certify the 2020 presidential election. Hagedorn voted against that, and Carnahan says she would have done the same thing.

Another Republican candidate, state Rep. Jeremy Munson of Lake Crystal, says he too would not have voted to certify the election results.

A recent Republican endorsing convention failed to settle on a candidate, but Munson led all seven rounds of balloting among 1st District GOP activists. That means he’s the front-runner among likely primary voters, he said.

“I've been the honest candidate out there talking about how it's Republican and Democrats’ fault for continuing to grow government to add to this debt,” said Munson.

Albert Lea attorney Matt Benda raised more money than any of the other Republicans, excluding loans some made to their campaigns. But Benda trailed Munson and Finstad in convention balloting as did Carnahan.

Like Munson and Carnahan, Benda too said he would have voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election. He said he’s the best choice for Republicans because he lacks the political connections other candidates tend to highlight.

 “I'm not influenced by outsiders,” Benda said. “I am 100 percent committed to the 1st District. And I think that authenticity really shows.”

 As Republicans stage a full-on primary battle, DFLers have a clear front-runner in former Hormel CEO Jeff Ettinger. Ettinger, a first-time candidate, raised nearly $150,000 in the first quarter of the year, nearly seven times as much as the next closest Democrat.

A man signs paper.
Former Hormel CEO Jeff Ettinger formally enters the special election campaign in Minnesota's 1st Congressional District on Thursday, March 10, 2022.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Ettinger said he will use some of his own money to fund his campaign, but he won’t say how much. That worries Republicans regardless of what happens with their contested primaries.

Ettinger said the people of the 1st District, who have been represented by Republicans and Democrats over the past 25 years, need someone like him who has voted across party lines.

“I think my views primarily align with the modern Democratic Party,” Ettinger said. “I also believe that today's Republican Party has been actively purging themselves of anybody moderate, so to me as a moderate person, that really wasn't a consideration then.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misidentified the photo of Brad Finstad