The death of Republican Rep. Jim Hagedorn in February set off a “one in a million” chain of electoral events in the 1st Congressional District, according to Minnesota’s top elections official Secretary of State Steve Simon.
The special election to fill the remaining five months of Hagedorn’s term is Tuesday, as is the primary election in the newly redrawn district to determine who will be on the ballot in November to serve the next two years in office.
“So it's a twofer for folks who live in the 1st Congressional District,” Simon said. “What we can do and are doing is working with our local partners and counties and cities to work with election judges to deal with any voter confusion at the polls."
Republican Brad Finstad and Democrat Jeff Ettinger are running in the special election.
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“I'm a farmer, and I'm a problem solver,” said Finstad, who is also one of two Republicans running in the primary.
Much of Finstad’s focus in the special election campaign has been on the Biden administration and other Democrats he blames for inflation, and other problems.
“Everywhere I go in southern Minnesota, I'm hearing the exact same thing,” Finstad said. “It's family pocketbook issues. It's gas prices. It's food prices. It's grocery store shelves being half full. It's disruption in supply chain things like baby formula and other necessities that we're just not normal to have shortages with. And people are just frustrated with it.”
Finstad served six years in the Minnesota Legislature and also worked for the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and the state Farm Bureau.
Democrat Ettinger, the former CEO of Hormel Foods in Austin, is a first-time candidate. He says he’s puzzled with Finstad’s focus on national Democrats.
“I feel like he's apparently running against Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi, and not me,” Ettinger said.
Ettinger contends he’s not an ideologue, noting that he has supported both Democrats and Republicans in past elections. He also said pandemic response funding could have been more carefully targeted.
But Ettinger disagrees with the contention that Democrats are to blame for the global problem of increasing prices and supply-chain disruptions.
And while he agrees voters are concerned about the economy, he also said many people he’s been meeting are worried about the future of the nation’s democracy.
“I'm receiving great feedback from Democrats, independents and moderate Republicans who are sick of the gridlock and hostility in Washington and recognize that I have a long track record of getting things done,” Ettinger said. “And that's what they're looking for.”
State Rep. Jeremy Munson, R-Lake Crystal, is not running in the special election, but he is challenging Finstad in Tuesday’s primary that will determine who’s on the ballot in November.
Munson has been sharply critical of Finstad for what Munson says is out-of-control government spending.
He said many Republicans are fed up with what they believe is too much spending by both parties.
“And that's the number one driver,” Munson said. “It's not Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden that cause inflation. It's Republicans and Democrats agreeing to grow government and endless printing of money that's caused this, and you need people in Washington, D.C. that are going to correct course.”
It looks like Ettinger will be running in the November election regardless of what happens with the special election. But if Finstad wins the special and loses the primary to Munson, Munson will be the Republican candidate on the November ballot.
Minnesota State University, Mankato political scientist Fred Slocum said fierce division on the Republican side could work in Ettinger’s favor going into the November general election, regardless of who wins the special election.
“It's kind of an axiom in politics that when one side is unified going into a general election and the other side is not, the side that is unified typically has an advantage or derives an advantage from that,” Slocum said.