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Democrats and Republicans eye First District seat following Hagedorn’s death

According to Minnesota law, a special election must be held to fill Hagedorn’s seat on Aug, 9, which is the same day as the midterm primary elections.

Then-President Trump, right, made a stop in the 1st Congressional District to endorse candidate Jim Hagedorn in October 2018.
Then-President Donald Trump, right, made a stop in the 1st Congressional District to endorse candidate Jim Hagedorn in October 2018.
MinnPost file photo by Craig Lassig

After the announcement of First District Rep. Jim Hagedorn’s death last week, those close to him mourned while politicos in and around the district scrambled to figure out what would come next for the district during this election year.

Hagedorn announced in July 2021 that his kidney cancer had returned, and in January of this year he checked into the Mayo Clinic after testing positive for COVID-19.

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He was first elected to lead Minnesota’s First Congressional District in 2018, a year which was a difficult political time for Republicans. He took over the First District after it had been held by Tim Walz, who left the seat to become governor. Hagedorn defeated the Democratic candidate by just 1,315 votes in 2018, and won again by a larger margin of votes in 2020. 

During his time in the House, Hagedorn served on the House Subcommittees on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture; on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research; on Underserved, Agricultural and Rural Business Development; on Contracting and Infrastructure and on Oversight, Investigations and Regulations. He was also facing an ethics investigation over allegations of using taxpayer-funded mailers for campaign purposes and renting office space for free or far below market rent from a political donor in Mankato.

Hagedorn’s death leaves an empty seat in the House of Representatives, one that will need to be filled even before the midterm elections. Experts say that could present a better chance for Democrats to take the First District this year.

A rushed election

According to Minnesota law, a special election must be held to fill Hagedorn’s seat on Aug. 9, which is the same day as the midterm primary elections.  Gov. Tim Walz officially issued a writ for the election date. If a primary needs to be held it will take place May 24. Whoever wins the seat following the Aug. 9 election will serve in the House of Representatives on an interim basis, and then will have to run again to keep the seat during the midterm election in November.

Before the primaries, Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman David Hann said  Republicans in Hagedorn’s district will have a convention in April where they will be able to endorse a candidate for Congress.

“We look forward to supporting the eventual Republican candidate for the First Congressional District, and will work hard to keep this seat in GOP hands to help fire Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in November,” Hann said in a statement Tuesday.

With so much now up in the air, candidates and voters in the First District could face a wacky election season.

“It could conceivably be that one person is elected in August and another person is elected in November,” said Fred Slocum, associate professor of political science and primary American politics specialist at Mankato State University. “I wouldn’t say that it’s 50 percent likely, but it’s not out of the question.”

So far in the First District, no one has announced a campaign to run for the seat, Republican or Democrat. With Hagedorn’s health on the decline, speculation is Republicans may have held off on announcing primary runs in case of the congressman’s death. Either way, Hagedorn’s death makes the race for the First a true toss-up.

“The party not holding the seat generally can have an easier time making a respectable showing, if not winning open seat elections instead of running against an incumbent,” Slocum said. “Running against an incumbent tends to be difficult to defeat historically, Especially in U.S. House races.”

In the 2020 election, for example, 96 percent of incumbent congressional candidates kept their seats.

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Slocum said that Minnesotans will likely see candidates coming from the Minnesota State House or State Senate, but staff members of House members aren’t out of the question. Mayors of towns in the district may also decide to run for the seat. And in a district that would have voted for Donald Trump by nine points in 2020 under the newly drawn lines, this may be the best chance that Democrats will have in the next few years to take the seat back.

Despite a possible Democratic inroad with an open seat, Minnesota’s First District still looks like a reliable win for the GOP. According to the Cook Political Report, the First District is plus-eight in favor of Republicans for the 2022 midterm election. The First District also voted for Donald Trump in 2020 by a 10-point margin.

Grieving a loss 

Minnesota’s three remaining Republican representatives Michelle Fischbach, Pete Stauber and Tom Emmer released a joint statement Friday morning in honor of Hagedorn.

“Jim was a dear friend who wanted nothing more than to represent the people of Minnesota’s First District in Congress,” read the statement. “He did so every day with an unwavering passion and unshakable joy that brightened the halls of Congress and brought the best of Blue Earth to Washington. Our thoughts are with Jim’s family during this time and we will continue to pray for them. We will miss Jim dearly.”

It’s rather telling that Minnesota’s entire congressional delegation did not join together in a commemorative statement, but some of the state’s Democrats did release their own condolences.

“Jim and I served in the U.S. House during a time of many great challenges for our nation and for our state – and all the while, he bravely endured the personal challenge of cancer treatment with dignity and grace while serving our country and his constituents,” Fourth District Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum said in a statement. “Despite our policy differences on many issues, Jim and I were united in the common goal of achieving greater opportunities for future generations of Minnesotans. I want to offer my deepest condolences to Jim’s family and the people of the First Congressional District during this difficult time. The Minnesota Congressional delegation is grateful for Representative Jim Hagedorn’s service to our country.”

On Twitter, Third District Rep. Dean Phillips issued a statement on the loss of Hagedorn.

“I’m saddened by the passing of my colleague, Jim Hagedorn. We had different political views but a respectful friendship and a shared love for Minnesota and our country. Condolences to Jennifer Carnahan and family. May his memory for [be, sic] a blessing.”

Though loved by many, especially those in the GOP, Hagedorn had a polarizing political presence. 

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Between 2002 and 2008, Hagedorn ran a now-deleted blog, “Mr. Conservative,” where he posted sexist and racist commentary as well as homophobic innuendo and anti-Native American statements. In a 2005 blog post, he called Washington’s two Democratic senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, “undeserving bimbos in tennis shoes.” 

Writing about now-Sen. John Thune’s race against Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, Hagedorn wrote insensitively about Native Americans. “The race has been highlighted by a Democrat drive to register voters in several of several of South Dakota’s expansive redistribution of wealth centers…err…casino parlors…err…Indian reservations. Remarkably, many of the voters registered for absentee ballots were found to be chiefs and squaws who had returned to the spirit world many moons ago.” Alleging that fake votes from Native Americans would provide the margin of victory, he echoed, “John Wayne’s wisdom of the only good Indian being a dead Indian.”

Hagedorn apologized for his hateful blog posts in 2014.