Minnesota holds special primary for late congressman’s seat

May 20, 2022, 2:48 PM | Updated: 3:29 pm
FILE - In this June 10, 2018 photo, then, Minnesota 1st District congressional candidate Jim Hagedo...

FILE - In this June 10, 2018 photo, then, Minnesota 1st District congressional candidate Jim Hagedorn is seen at a parade in Waterville, Minn. Voters in southern Minnesota's 1st Congressional District will choose candidates in a special primary Tuesday, May 24, 2022, in the first step in a complicated process for filling the seat of Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who died of cancer in February. (AP Photo/Jim Mone File)

(AP Photo/Jim Mone File)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Voters in southern Minnesota will choose candidates in a special primary next week in the first step in a complicated process for filling the seat of Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who died of cancer in February.

The GOP candidates Tuesday for the 1st District seat include Hagedorn’s widow, Jennifer Carnahan, who has leveled a series of bitter attacks in the final days of the campaign against two of her main rivals in the primary, state Rep. Jeremy Munson and former state Rep. Brad Finstad. She has labeled both of them as captives of “Establishment Republicans and the Washington Swamp.” And she has claimed that her husband made it clear before he died that he did not want Munson to replace him.

Former President Donald Trump hasn’t endorsed a candidate to replace the staunchly pro-Trump Hagedorn, but Carnahan, of Blue Earth, has been making the most overt appeals to Trump supporters. Her website is loaded with photos and videos of her and Hagedorn with Trump, and of her appearances at Trump campaign events in 2020.

Carnahan was forced out as chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota last August after a prominent donor was indicted on sex-trafficking charges and former staffers complained of a toxic work environment. And she was sued by Hagedorn’s mother, stepfather and sister this month in a dispute over money they loaned to help cover his medical bills. But she’s painting herself as the best candidate to carry on her husband’s legacy — and Trump’s.

Munson, of Lake Crystal, is a founder of a hard-right faction that broke from the main Minnesota House GOP Caucus. He’s painting himself as the truest conservative in the race. He has been touting his string of endorsements from nationally prominent congressional hardliners, including Sens. Ted Cruz, of Texas, and Rand Paul, of Kentucky; Reps. Jim Jordan, of Ohio, Scott Perry, of Pennsylvania, and Thomas Massie, of Kentucky; and former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, of Minnesota. His website includes a photo of him at a Trump rally with Trump in the background.

Munson won 55% of the vote when 1st District Republicans met last month to try to endorse a candidate for the general election in November, but he fell short of the required 60%. Due to the accelerated calendar, the party hasn’t endorsed a candidate for the special primary nor the special general election Aug. 9 that will decide who gets to fill out the rest of Hagedorn’s term.

Finstad, of New Ulm, has the backing of several Minnesota GOP officeholders, including U.S. Reps. Michelle Fischbach and Pete Stauber of Minnesota, as well as the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. And he’s been quick to remind voters that he was Trump’s state director for USDA Rural Development in Minnesota.

But Carnahan has attacked Finstad for clicking “like” on tweets perceived as anti-Trump and claims he’s a “squishy” Republican establishment figure who never truly supported Trump.

Other Republicans on the ballot include agricultural attorney Matt Benda, of Albert Lea, and state Rep. Nels Pierson, of Rochester.

On the Democratic side, the endorsed candidate is former Hormel Foods CEO Jeffrey Ettinger, of Austin, who now chairs the Hormel Foundation.

His opponents include University of Minnesota law professor Richard Painter, of Mendota Heights, a former White House ethics lawyer in President George W. Bush’s administration.

Turnout for Tuesday’s special primary is expected to be low, and the process for what will follow is complicated.

The special primary and the Aug. 9 special general election are being held within the district’s existing borders. But Aug. 9 is also when Minnesota will hold regular primaries statewide.

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 him or her an advantage heading into the November general election, which will determine who holds the seat in the next Congress.

Both the regular primary and the general election will be held within the district’s new court-adjusted borders. Redistricting this year didn’t change the political balance of the district much, so it still leans Republican.

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Minnesota holds special primary for late congressman’s seat