1st District special election will take on clarity in a week
Special election primary will take place May 24, reducing 19 candidates to 4
ROCHESTER — A congressional special election race that was as clear as mud when it started two months ago will take on clarity in a week.
On Tuesday, May 24, voters will head to the polls to pick major party nominees for Congress who will advance to an Aug. 9 1st Congressional District special election. A field now made up of 19 candidates will be winnowed down to four.
Gov. Tim Walz called the special election when Rep. Jim Hagedorn, a two-term Republican from Blue Earth, died on Feb. 17.
The primary is almost certain to be a low-turnout affair, meaning the candidates most capable of energizing their base of supporters will have the best chance of winning their party’s nomination.
With nine Republican candidates and seven Democratic candidates, a low plurality of votes could secure the nomination for the winning candidate.
There have been no polls to suggest which candidate enjoys front-runner status in each respective party. But recent conventions to endorse candidates for Congress in the new 1st Congressional District as a result of redistricting suggest several candidates with inside-track strengths for the special election.
On the GOP side is state Rep. Jeremy Munson, a Crystal Lake, Minn., businessman. Munson won 55% of delegates at a GOP endorsing convention two weeks ago where candidates were vying for the nod from their party not for the special election but for the endorsement for the general election in November.
While Munson's total was short of the 60% needed to secure the party’s endorsement, it showed Munson with possible front-runner status of the nine GOP candidates.
Munson has also touted the endorsements of U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio as well as former congresswoman Michele Bachman. Munson is perhaps best known for proposing legislation that would let Minnesota counties secede from the state and join border states such as South Dakota.
Brad Finstad, a three-term state representative from New Ulm, also finished strong at the GOP convention with 35 percent of delegates. Finstad served as former President Donald Trump’s state director for USDA Rural Development in Minnesota.
In a district where the Trump name and message has resonated strongly, any claimed association to the former president could confer political benefit.
On the Democratic side, former Hormel Foods CEO Jeff Ettinger won the DFL endorsement for Congress in the new CD-1. Ettinger won 65% of delegates and the endorsement after two ballots. Sarah Brakebill-Hacke, a Rochester Community and Technical College graduate, came in second with 25% of delegates.
The special election will be taking place at a time of strong public disenchant with inflation, high gas and diesel prices and rising grocery bills. Empty shelves of baby formula have also added to the anxieties of parents. All this has taken place on the watch of Democratic leaders in Washington, D.C. and St. Paul and is likely to benefit of GOP candidates.
“The current political climate clearly favors the GOP – inflation, immigration, crime all work in that party’s favor,” said Steven Schier, a political analyst and former political science professor from Carlton College. “The Dems have a chance if they mobilize superior resources – voter contact, volunteers, advertising — and employ them well before election day.
“Even with that, it’s a challenge for them,” Schier added.
Other candidates include Republicans Bob “Again" Carney Jr., Ken Navitsky, Kevin Kocina, Roger Ungemach, Matt Benda, J.R. Ewing, Jennifer Carnahan and Nels Pierson; and Democrats Richard Painter, George Kalberer, Warren Lee Anderson, James Rainwater and Candice Deal-Bartell. The two maijuana party candidates are Richard Reisdorf and Haroun McClellan.
Republican and Democratic candidates offer divergent prescriptions for strengthening the country. GOP candidates say taming inflation, securing the country’s southern border, and energy independence are their priorities. Democrats list expanding healthcare, strengthening and defending voting rights, and developing renewable energy at a time of climate crisis.
Munson said he is the only candidate in the race to vow not to raise the debt ceiling when the need arises.
“The first step to addressing and containing inflation is to admit its cause,” Munson said. “We are experiencing a drastic increase in inflation because both Republicans and Democrats have agreed to cut taxes while increasing spending,” Munson said. “The resulting massive annual deficits have created over $30 trillion in debt and runaway inflation.”
State Rep. Nels Pierson, R-Rochester, identified fixing the country’s porous border as a priority. Further work on building a wall on the southern border needs to be done. And immigrants who follow the country’s immigration laws should be rewarded with a quicker path to citizenship.
“Merit-based immigration qualifications should be broadened, and quotas increased to alleviate backlogs and pressures at the border,” Pierson said.
On the Democratic side, Ettinger has framed his campaign as defending mainstream values that are being trampled on by Republicans intent on limiting voting rights and aggravating climate change. For Etteringer, a pivotal moment in his decision to run for office was the Jan. 6 riot that suspended the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory.
“I’ve heard several of the GOP candidates say they would not have certified the election,” Ettinger said. “To me, that’s just not a mainstream principle.”
Brakebill-Hacke said health care is one of her top priorities. She notes the vast sums of public and private dollars being spent to develop Rochester into a Destination Medical Center, a hub for attracting people globally to Rochester to get well.
“What people of this district want to hear about is health care,” she said. “We also have an obligation to provide quality care to all our citizens.
“I believe a system with global budgeting that preserves choice for patients, profit for hospitals and compensation for the world’s greatest healthcare providers in Rochester would create a boom for our region and makes us one of the world’s most attractive places to visit, live and do business,” Brakebill-Hacke said.