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Finstad wins special election to fill 1st District seat vacated with death of Hagedorn

Finstad won the election by nearly 5,000 votes, or about 52% over Democrat Jeff Ettinger, who had 48%.

Brad Finstad, surrounded Tuesday night by his children: “As your representative in Congress, I promise to fight the extreme Biden and Pelosi agenda that is devasting our families.”
Brad Finstad, surrounded Tuesday night by his wife and children: “As your representative in Congress, I promise to fight the extreme Biden and Pelosi agenda that is devasting our families.”
MinnPost photo by Walker Orenstein

WASHINGTON — Republican Brad Finstad was declared the winner early Wednesday in a special election to fill the remaining months of the late Rep. Jim Hagedorn’s term in southern Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District.

Finstad won the election by nearly 5,000 votes, or about 52% to 48%, over Democrat Jeff Ettinger, a former Hormel executive who has put nearly $1 million of his own money into his effort to win the seat.

But the contest between Finstad and Ettinger is not over. Both won separate primary elections Tuesday to run to represent the district in the next Congress, which begins in January.

“I am humbled to receive the support of my fellow Southern Minnesotans to represent them in Congress,” Finstad said in a statement.

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He also identified himself as a “former State Representative, and President Trump USDA appointee.”

“As your representative in Congress, I promise to fight the extreme Biden and Pelosi agenda that is devastating our families,” Finstad said.

But it will be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision when to swear Finstad in as newest member of the U.S. House, most likely in the next few days.

Finstad has said he’d like to be able to vote on the Inflation Reduction Act, a huge health and climate bill that will be voted on in the U.S. House on Friday and is unlikely to garner any GOP support.

If Finstad is sworn in before Friday’s vote, Democrats will not be able to lose more than four votes to pass the bill as there would be 211 Republicans and 220 Democrats in the U.S. House.

Jeff Ettinger
Ettinger for Congress
Jeff Ettinger
Meanwhile, Ettinger, who struggled with COVID-19 in the last days of the campaign, congratulated Finstad Wednesday morning in a statement.

“The voters of Southern Minnesota have spoken,” Ettinger said. “I want to congratulate Brad Finstad on winning the Special Election last night. Though I had hoped to celebrate different news with you all, there is plenty for which to be hopeful. We won big in our primary, we outperformed pundits and polls, and we have momentum in a new, advantageous district.”

Because of population changes determined by the 2020 U.S. Census, the boundaries of the 1st District have been reconfigured and Goodhue and Wabasha counties have been added.

Still, Ettinger will be an underdog in the November contest. Former President Trump carried the existing 1st District by 54% to 44% over Joe Biden in 2020.

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Ettinger, who has supported both Democratic and Republican candidates in the past, has said his rift with the party occurred with Trump’s election. He vowed to continue to bring our message of common-sense, results-oriented representation to the district.

Meanwhile, at his election watch party Tuesday evening at the Sleepy Eye Event Center, Linda Hitzemann, 72, of Mankato, said she picked Finstad over Ettinger because Democrats only want to “spend and take our money.” She and her husband Doug, 73, said they were personal friends of Hagedorn and supported his widow Jennifer Carnahan in the May special election primary.

But the Hitzemanns switched their allegiance to Finstad after he won that primary.

Finstad is favored to win November’s general election, but the district has been represented by Democrats before, most recently by Tim Walz before successfully ran for governor.

David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report said in a tweet that Finstad’s margin of victory over Ettinger “won’t be anything to write home about,” because it is smaller than Trump’s margin in the district. Wasserman said the results of the special election “fits a pattern of a ‘red wave’ ebb” that has hurt Republican congressional candidates since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade abortion rights.

MinnPost reporter Walker Orenstein contributed to this report from Sleepy Eye, Minnesota.