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Finstad wins GOP congressional special election primary; Ettinger wins DFL primary

DFL race was a snoozer but GOP contest has been neck-and-neck.

Special Election Primary Voting
Victor Bittner, of Rochester, takes part in the primary on Tuesday, May 24, 2022, at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Rochester for the special election to fill the 1st Congressional District seat of U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who died in February. The winner of the special election will serve out the remainder of Hagedorn's term.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER, Minn. — Former GOP state Rep. Brad Finstad appeared poised to win the GOP primary to run for Congress in an Aug. 9 special election while first-time DFL candidate and former Hormel CEO Jeff Ettinger handily won the DFL contest, narrowing a congressional field that started off with 20 contenders down to four major party candidates.

While the DFL primary wasn’t close with Ettinger winning more than 64% of the vote in an eight-candidate field, the GOP primary was a nail-biter between Finstad and state Rep. Jeremy Munson, R-St. Lake Crystal, and a bit of a surprise.

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With 100 percent of precincts reported, Finstad holds a razor-thin 338-vote lead over Munson with more than 36,000 votes cast for GOP candidates in a 10-person field.

The vote total, while thin, would not trigger an automatic recount. According to state statute, a recount is mandated in a "state primary when the difference between the votes cast for the candidates for nomination to (1) a state legislative office is less than one-half of one percent of the total number of votes counted for that nomination."

The difference between Finstad's total and Munson's total number of votes is more than 1% of the entire vote total for the nomination.

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The special election was called by Gov. Tim Walz after Rep. Jim Hagedorn, R-Blue Earth, died in office Feb. 17 after a three-year battle with kidney cancer. The winner of the Aug. 9 special election will serve out the remaining four months of Hagedorn’s term.

Jennifer Carnahan, Hagedorn’s widow and former state GOP chairwoman, won only 8% of the vote.

Jeff Ettinger and Brad Finstad
Jeff Ettinger, left, and Brad Finstad, right.
Contributed

In total, Finstad defeated nine other GOP candidates to earn the nomination.

Munson appeared the favorite to win the nomination based on his performance in a 1st Congressiona District GOP endorsing convention held last month where Munson won 55% of the delegates for the endorsement for the general election in November. It was short of the 60% threshold needed to secure the endorsement for the newly redrawn 1st Congressional District, but he was far ahead of all the contenders, including Finstad.

Finstad, however, also boasted advantages, including his association with former President Trump’s administration. A three-term state representative, Finstad served as Trump’s state director for the USDA Office of Rural Development from 2017 to 2021.

While his campaign ran TV ads vowing to “fire” Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi if elected, Finstad was one of the few to take his campaign on the road.

A day before Tuesday’s primary, Finstad completed a 21-county tour across the district to tout his conservative credentials – the kind of retail politics that was largely absent from the race.

Polls close at 8 p.m. Results will be updated as they are available.

Finstad also ran on getting a handle on inflation, securing the country’s southern border and economically energizing rural Minnesota.

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It was back and forth throughout the evening until Finstad took a roughly 400-vote lead and never surrendered it.

The field also includes two cannabis candidates, Richard Reisorf of Legal Marijuana Now and Haroun McClellan of the Grassroots-Legal Cannabis Party. Neither candidate was challenged in their respective primaries and automatically advances to the special election.

Ettinger, who ran Hormel in Austin from 2005 to 2016, has framed his candidacy as an effort to restore mainstream values to the 1st District. He said Hagedorn’s decision to not certify the electoral votes of Pennsylvania and Arizona in an attempt to overturn the presidential election that Joe Biden won was an embarrassment for the 1st District.

“I think our party, first of all, represents mainstream America, and I think I can be an effective representative of those mainstream values,” he said.

Ettinger told the PB that restoring and protecting the country’s democracy, reducing health care costs and ensuring strong local schools are his top campaign issues.

DFL candidate Sarah Brakebill-Hacke questioned why the party was throwing its support behind a candidate who donated to other Republicans, including Liz Cheney who is pro-life.

His emergence as the DFL nominee is also going to bring heightened scrutiny during his time as Hormel CEO. Ettinger has boasted on his campaign website that he was named “Most Responsible CEO of the year.”

But a Daily Beast article posted Tuesday cited a host of violations, fines and other problematic issues that occurred during his tenure there. They included environmental citations, safety violations and six-figure settlements for back wages.

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The current 1st District covers southern Minnesota and is largely a rural district with a strong agricultural tradition. It also includes several major mid-sized cities including Rochester, Mankato and Albert Lea.

The special election will take place on Aug. 9, the same date as the primary for the general election in November. So it's likely that Finstad and Munson will face each other again to determine the party's nominee to run in the general election and represent the new 1st District. Ettinger won his party's endorsement to run for Congress in the general election.

Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or mstolle@postbulletin.com.
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