Updated: 10:00 a.m.
Former Hormel Foods executive Jeff Ettinger cruised to victory Tuesday in a Democratic primary to finish the term of the late U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, while on the Republican side Brad Finstad narrowly defeated Jeremy Munson in unofficial results.
With all precincts reporting early Wednesday, Finstad, a former state representative, had 13,835 votes to 13,446 for Munson, a current state representative — a gap of just over 1 percentage point.
Finstad issued a statement Wednesday morning declaring victory.
“I am honored to have the backing of voters across southern Minnesota," he said, calling the results of the primary "a victory for our southern Minnesota values. The race in this special election will provide a clear contrast. I promise to fight the extreme Biden and Pelosi agenda.”
“I will work to slash inflation, get control of the border, restore American energy independence, and put our families first,” Finstad said.
Munson conceded the race in a statement sent just after 9 a.m. Wednesday, thanking volunteers for their work on his campaign, and asking his supporters to support Finstad.
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“Conservatives must rally behind Brad to keep this seat in Republican hands,” Munson said in a release, “so we can fight for a better future filled with opportunities, defend our Constitutional rights, liberties, and freedoms, and turn this country around by addressing the out-of-control spending and overreaching regulations.”
Ettinger drew 64 percent of votes in the DFL race, far ahead of his nearest challenger. He told MPR News that he drew support not just from Democrats.
“I know at least on a local basis that I received all sorts of support from moderate Republicans and independents who are also ready for a fresh approach in Washington,” Ettinger said. “I intend to go out to the entire district from Luverne to La Crescent and talk to people in their local communities and really kind of try to make that pitch that, ‘Hey, it should be less about party and more about getting things done.’”
The winners of Tuesday's primary will meet in August to determine who will finish the last few months of Hagedorn’s term. The stakes are likely higher than that, though, with the winners expecting a bump in their chances to win a full term in November.
Other Republican primary hopefuls had included Hagedorn's widow, Jennifer Carnahan, who was in third with 2,918 votes as of early Wednesday. Finstad, Munson and Carnahan all played up their admiration for former President Donald Trump while trying to set themselves apart from their rivals.
Trump did not endorse in the race.
Finstad had support from establishment Republicans such as U.S. Reps. Michelle Fischbach and Pete Stauber of Minnesota. He also had the pedigree of serving in the Trump administration as state director for USDA Rural Development in Minnesota.
Munson, meanwhile, portrayed himself as the true conservative in the race, with national endorsements from hardliners such as Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Jim Jordan. He narrowly missed endorsement by 1st District Republicans last month.
On the Democratic side, Ettinger, who is making his first foray into politics, raised significantly more money than a handful of rivals. Those included University of Minnesota law professor Richard Painter, a former White House ethics lawyer in President George W. Bush's administration, and progressive activist Sarah Brakebill-Hacke who finished second on Tuesday with just over 13 percent of the DFL votes.
The process that will follow Tuesday's primary is complicated. The winners will run in an Aug. 9 special general election that coincides with Minnesota's statewide primary the same day.
The winner of the special general election, who will fill out the rest of Hagedorn's term into January, presumably will also win the district’s regular primary that same day. That should give them an advantage heading into the November general election, which will determine who holds the seat in the next Congress.
The seat stretches across Minnesota's southern border, and is mostly rural and agricultural except for big population centers in Mankato and Rochester.