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Why Democrats don’t have a candidate in Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District

At one point, 7th District Democrats had three possible candidates, but two no longer live in the district after the state redrew its political maps. And the third says he’s leaving the U.S. to fight for Ukraine. 

Seventh Congressional District candidate and Air Force veteran Mark J. Lindquist says he is leaving the U.S. later this month to fight for Ukraine after the Russian invasion.
Seventh Congressional District candidate and Air Force veteran Mark J. Lindquist says he is leaving the U.S. later this month to fight for Ukraine after the Russian invasion.
Mark J. Lindquist Veteran for Congress

Twenty candidates filed to run in the special election in southern Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District following the death of Republican Jim Hagedorn. That large field includes eight Democratic hopefuls.

But in western Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District, the picture is much different. For one, the GOP has an incumbent running in this year’s race: first-term Rep. Michelle Fischbach. But it’s on the DFL side where there’s the biggest contrast with the 1st District race.

At one point, 7th District Democrats had three possible candidates, but two no longer live in the district after Minnesota courts redrew political boundaries. The third person is no longer seeking the Democratic endorsement but may keep running as an independent, which could prove a challenge: Air Force veteran Mark J. Lindquist says he is leaving the U.S. later this month to fight for Ukraine after the Russian invasion.

“I might have called the chair of the 1st Congressional District (DFL) and told him ‘stop hogging all the candidates,’” joked Jennifer Cronin, who chairs Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District DFL.

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Cronin said her organization expects a candidate to announce soon, and the November general election in the 7th District is much further away than the special election in the 1st District. But the lack of options so far may be one indication of an uphill battle DFLers face in this huge and largely rural swath of Minnesota — just two years after 15-term DFLer Collin Peterson was defeated at the polls.

Rep. Michelle Fischbach
Rep. Michelle Fischbach
Tim Lindberg, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota Morris, said the district — which now includes Moorhead, Detroit Lakes, Roseau, East Grand Forks, Fergus Falls, Willmar, Little Falls, Marshall and Pipestone — didn’t necessarily become more conservative over time. But he said broadly the Democratic party became more left-wing and the Republican party became more right-wing, and voters eventually sided with the GOP in greater numbers. 

Peterson was one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress while he represented the district, yet the 2020 election wasn’t particularly close. Fischbach, a former state Senator and lieutenant governor, won by more than 13 points. 

Earlier this year, Democrat Reed Olson, a Beltrami County Commissioner, announced he would challenge Fischbach. So did Ernest Oppegaard-Peltier of Bemidji. But after redistricting, the boundaries of the 8th Congressional District shifted west to include both Olson and Oppegaard-Peltier. Now Olson is running for state House and Oppegaard-Peltier is running for Congress in the 8th District.

Another candidate to announce was Lindquist, of Moorhead, who is an entertainer and motivational speaker who has sung the national anthem at a host of professional and college sports games. Lindquist initially said he was a Democrat and has billed himself as an unorthodox and energetic candidate who told the Forum News Service in July his top issue was to get more funding and help for research into possible health effects from “burn pits” used in Iraq and Afghanistan by the military to destroy waste, chemicals and other hazardous material.

But Lindquist now says he’s running as an independent. That is, if he’s running at all. Lindquist told MinnPost he’s submitted paperwork to enlist in the defense of Ukraine and said he’s headed to Eastern Europe for an undetermined amount of time. First he’ll leave for Warsaw and then head into Ukraine, he says.

“I’m still in the race and have been working on the campaign ever since last July,” Lindquist said in an email Thursday. “But the brink of WWIII has led me to drop everything in the name of this cause of freedom. So honestly, I don’t know what it means for the future of my campaign for Congress… sometimes a more urgent need comes up and you just gotta respond. I’m still in it and think I can bring some exciting new ideas to the country… but for now I’ve got to go do what I can to stop the next world war.”

Lindquist sent MinnPost a picture of an airplane ticket from Amsterdam to Warsaw and a completed one-page application that appears to be a questionnaire for “foreign legion” fighters. U.S. residents can voluntarily go to Ukraine to fight. The Ukrainian embassy did not respond to a request for comment in an effort to confirm the paperwork.

Lindquist said he hasn’t heard back from the Ukrainian embassy yet and is still waiting for instructions and confirmation from an office that he said has been overwhelmed. “I’ll land in Warsaw, get acclimated and gather the intel on the ground and then go conduct humanitarian missions until my application for the territorial defense is approved or denied.”

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Cronin said their understanding was that Lindquist, who no longer has a campaign Facebook page and has posted little since last summer, had dropped out of the race. But Cronin said the 7th District DFL wishes Lindquist well and is grateful for his service.

There is another independent, Travis “Bull” Johnson, in the race.

Jennifer Cronin
Jennifer Cronin
The 7th District DFL put together a search committee composed of congressional district leaders and former legislators to look for candidates. The group has been meeting for roughly a month to vet potential candidates. “Hopefully very soon we have an announcement, crossing my fingers,” Cronin said.

Cronin said it’s a new position for them because Peterson had been in office for three decades.

Lindberg, the professor, said it might be hard for Democrats to attract candidates who are already established in politics to run a difficult campaign with a small chance to win. Especially because financial support from Democrats might be slimmer than when Peterson was running because the party is likely to funnel cash to higher-priority races.

The 7th District is likely to lean somewhat further Republican after redistricting, Lindberg said. Two DFL-friendly Native American reservations that were once part of 7th are now in the 8th District, and the areas it did gain tend to vote Republican, Lindberg noted.

The president’s party also often fares poorly in the first midterm after their election.

Still, Cronin said they do have interest from potential candidates and said the lack of announced candidates so far hasn’t been because the district is perceived to be safely in the hands of the GOP. There is only one announced Democrat in the 8th District to challenge U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, and the Republican-leaning 1st District likely had more DFL action earlier in part because the filing deadline for the race was on Tuesday and because there is no incumbent in the race.

Candidates can officially file for the general election in all the congressional races between May 17 and 31, and the primary is on Aug. 9, meaning there is more time for candidates to announce they will run.

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“We know this is going to be a fight no matter what, we always want to go into this as the underdog,” Cronin said. “We need someone to challenge Michelle Fischbach’s narrative and there are people willing to step up to do that.”