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In his first few months in Congress, First District Rep. Jim Hagedorn has stayed true to Trump. Will his district?

MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
President Trump, right, made stops in the mostly rural 1st and 8th congressional districts to endorse Republican candidates Jim Hagedorn, left, and Pete Stauber.

For the perennial candidate, the third time is almost never the charm. It’s usually the death throes of a short-lived political career, another rejection, and a time to throw out an unread victory speech.

For Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who spent the better part of five years running to represent Minnesota’s 1st District, a third run actually meant a seat in Congress. In 2018, incumbent Tim Walz announced he was going to make a run for governor instead.

And with a new president, Hagedorn’s campaign strategy was different: he aligned himself with President Donald Trump, who won Minnesota’s District 1 by 15 points in 2016. Hagedorn himself has in the past been described during the campaign by a local GOP Party chair as “espousing Trump’s positions before Trump was,” for example, in 2016, suggesting that Minnesota take in less Muslim refugees and that the United States is at war with “Islamic supremacists.”

Outspent, but no longer running against an incumbent, Hagedorn won — a dream come true for someone whose father represented part of the district. But his win came with a caveat: He won with the smallest margin in Minnesota and one of the smallest margins in the 2018 midterms: .4 percent or 1,311 votes.

His razor-thin margin and alignment with Trump are exactly why the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the biggest campaign arm of the Democratic Party, has only placed one member of congress on their priority list of 2020 targets: Hagedorn.

For someone who ran on a partnership with Trump, 2020 will be a test of how well Hagedorn can convince his district that he is still the best person to represent them in Congress — and whether Trump still sits well with the district.

A moderate district?

Minnesota’s First District has been at times won by President Bush, Obama, and Trump. Geographically, the district is the entire southern portion of the Minnesota, bordering Iowa, and including the cities of Rochester and Mankato. It also means a region heavy on agriculture and medical services, a place that’s home to both Hormel and the Mayo Clinic.

For districts that come within a hairline of being represented by the other party, one might typically expect talking points like “moderation” and “bipartisanship.” Such was the case with how Walz operated in the district.

Walz, a 24-year veteran of the Army National Guard and a high school teacher, first won the district in 2006 with a message of moderation. He accused his opponent, former Rep. Gil Gutknecht, of being too cozy to Republican President George W. Bush. And he won with 53 percent of the vote, defeating Gutknecht, who himself was swept in on the Republican tide of 1994, when Republicans picked up 54 seats.

When Walz announced his run for governor, Hagedorn’s DFL-endorsed opponent, was someone new: St. Paul native Dan Feehan. Like Walz, Feehan was a veteran and a teacher. And he tried to replicate Walz’s strategy, running on bipartisanship and solutions.

But Feehan didn’t win. And Hagedorn operates entirely differently.

Sticking with Trump

Since he was elected, he has followed through on his campaign message: FiveThirtyEight places Hagedorn as having voted with the President 95 percent of the time. When the president visited the state earlier this month, Hagedorn maintained his vocal support for the president’s policies, arguing that the president’s trade deal with China, Mexico, and Canada can boost the agricultural economy in the state.

Farmers in Minnesota are antsy around the president’s penchant for tariffs. While the Trump administration did announce a $12 billion agricultural assistance program last summer to offset the impact of the tariffs, The Mankato Free Press earlier this month urged Hagedorn “to start standing up for farmers in his district and call for an end to the tariff policy that is crippling the farm economy.”

Michael Petefish, president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, penned a letter in the Free Press that began: “Farmers need action, not lip service, from Rep. Jim Hagedorn,” urging the congressman to sign on to the Biodiesel Tax Credit Extension Act of 2019. (Hagedorn’s colleague to the north, Angie Craig, is a cosponsor, are several of Hagedorn’s Republican colleagues).

Hagedorn has been willing to stake out lonely territory in other instances as well. He was the only representative in the 10-member Minnesota congressional delegation not to sign on to a letter in support of MinnesotaCare. The letter is particularly accented by the fact that the chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee, Rep. Tom Emmer (MN-6), signed it, while Hagedorn did not. (Hagedorn’s spokesperson Becky Rogness said that Hagedorn sent his own letter questioning the change to federal funding of MinnesotaCare.)

Kevin Parsneau, a professor of in the Department of Government at Mankato State University, said that Hagedorn will likely have to answer for voting against the Violence Against Women Act (Emmer and Rep. Collin Peterson also voted no) and for his support of the president’s government shutdown. And, Parsneau added, if Republicans attempt another repeal of Obamacare without a replacement, as the president has been discussing, Hagedorn will also have to answer for that as well.

“Trump promises a replacement, but I doubt it will be fun for his allies like Hagedorn to explain that on the campaign trail next year. A lot will depend upon Trump’s popularity by then, because Hagedorn has hitched his wagon to Trump so far.”

Democrats believe that Hagedorn’s district will be a referendum on how Trump’s policies have impacted the region, and in turn, how much they see Hagedorn as aligned with the president.

Previewing the Democratic line of attack against Hagedorn, DCCC spokesperson Brooke Goren said, “Hagedorn’s priorities are wildly out of step with the needs of his constituents, making him the most vulnerable member of Minnesota’s delegation and priming the district for a return to Democratic leadership.”

As of now it is unclear who will run against Hagedorn. (Feehan did not rule out running again in his 2018 concession speech). What does seem to be clear, for the moment, is that Hagedorn does not intend to compromise or moderate his views.

“Rep. Hagedorn is going to be true to his values,” said Rogness. “Voters didn’t elect him to be a chameleon once he was sworn in.”

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 04/24/2019 - 11:09 am.

    For the benefit of the people living in the 1st District, I hope that the answer to the title’s rhetorical question is “No.”

  2. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 04/24/2019 - 11:13 am.

    If the God fearing residents really want to vote for a guy who supports Trump 95% of the time, they may be OK as during Biblical times there was no elections or bad votes, just autocratic rulers.

  3. Submitted by Brian Wietgrefe on 04/24/2019 - 11:28 am.

    Hagedorn ran for the first four times, not 3. He moved back from DC to run in 2010, came in 3rd or 4th at the endorsement. Then ran again in 2014, 2016, and 2018.

  4. Submitted by Michael Hess on 04/24/2019 - 03:51 pm.

    Ah makes you miss the good old days when congressional representatives went to represent their constituents needs and priorities, and would engage in critical thinking, instead of swearing blind fealty to their party leader no matter how damaging their policies or actions may be.

    • Submitted by Lydia Lucas on 04/24/2019 - 05:54 pm.

      But what would you expect from a candidate whose late-stage campaign ad characterized Feehan as “not one of us, he’s one of Them”?

  5. Submitted by Roy Everson on 04/25/2019 - 01:47 am.

    Is it worthy of mention that the southern boundary of the 1st district neatly matches the northern border of Rep. Steve King’s Iowa district? One wonders how often Hagedorn and King votes and views match up.

    • Submitted by Richard Steuland on 04/27/2019 - 12:07 am.

      King and HagDorn vote nearly identically. Both hold the party line, both find a Trump acceptable, both betray nearly half of those they were elected to represent. Demographics are changing and more people are seeing just how immoral the GOP has become. No longer can they claim the moral high ground. After all how upstanding is it to support a traitorous , sexual assaulting, lying, thriving con man. The foolish Evangelicals that worship Trump show us how they have abandoned Christian morality in favor of darkness.

  6. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 04/25/2019 - 05:55 am.

    If Democrats hold the House and gain the Senate in 2020, this will be a great district to gerrymander. With a margin that close, it should not be difficult to pack in a few more blue voters.

    And given how SCOTUS in now a fully GOP operation, we should not be fighting with one hand ties behind the back. SCOTUS has shown there is nothing wrong with gerrymandering, or, as seen this week, a citizenship question on the Census, which can’t even be called a thinly veiled attempt to rig elections.

    It may not be possible to get a Congressional delegation 7 – 1 in favor of Democrats, but 6 – 2 is a good goal.

    Now let’s get packing and cracking!

  7. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 04/25/2019 - 03:12 pm.

    Given that Trump (whose coat tales Hagedorn was riding) was elected in 2016, and Feehan had just moved into the district, I’d say that if Feehan (who has been active in the community) chooses to run again he will be a good bet to get the few more votes necessary. Trump’s coat tales (spelling intentional) are getting threadbare.

    • Submitted by stephanie snow on 04/26/2019 - 07:04 pm.

      Also I believe Hagedorn moved back to run. He was hardly in Blue Earth, bought a house there and was hardly there. That’s from residents in the town. He mostly grew up in DC and worked there. Feehan was close and I hope Dan runs again.

  8. Submitted by Mark Gruben on 04/27/2019 - 12:44 am.

    I’ve lived in the First District for over 30 years, and while many think of it a “red” district, I find that, today, the word “reddish” is more apt. As such, Tim Walz was our Congressman for 12 years, mostly because the Republicans have insisted on nominating far-right or extremist candidates like Allan Quist – and they get trounced. Jim Hagedorn did somewhat better, losing fairly close races to Walz in 2014 and 2016, because he had moderated some of his positions a bit. But in 2018, with Trump in the White House, he assumed he could again afford to run on those conservative principles, and with Trump scheduled to visit Rochester in early October, he assumed he’d get a big boost and cruise to victory. Polling data and the actual election results showed the error of these assumptions. In early September, the Mankato Free Press poll showed Hagedorn with a commanding 25-point lead over Dan Feehan. Trump was here on October 6. Three weeks later, Hagedorn’s lead had vanished, and Dan Feehan led by 1%. As the article pointed out, Hagedorn won by 0.4%, or just over 1300 votes. How has he done since taking office? I can only speak from my own experiences: In late January, I sent an email asking about his committee assignments, and I also asked if he had any “town halls” scheduled in the district. There was no response. In late February, I wrote a letter, asking the same questions, and it also received no response. In mid-March I sent another email – still no response. The first week of April, I placed two calls, one to his Mankato office and one to his Washington office, leaving messages about my previous attempts to contact him. In both cases, his office staff took my name and phone number, but no one bothered to call me back. I have since learned that Hagedorn has been back home at least twice, but for private meetings. No constituent events, town halls, nor forums open to the public. Frankly, Jim Hagedorn’s father was a member of Congress while Jim was a teenager, and he even worked in his father’s office from time to time; I should think he’d understand the importance of follow-up with constituent concerns. But it seems not; I have a friend in the Rochester area who has made several attempts to contact him regrading his positions on immigration, and she tells me that she has also received no response. That said, while there may be concerns about whether the First District will stay true to Trump, Jim Hagedorn needs to start worrying about whether the First District will stay true to him. I’m certainly not impressed.

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