GOP is poised to hold congressional seat in 1st District special election. Here's why
Turnout in the special election primary favored Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin.
ROCHESTER — It’s been a common refrain for political analysts to note that the current political climate favors Republicans as the November midterm elections approach.
Here’s a way to quantify those political winds, at least as it relates to Minnesota’s First Congressional District and the upcoming special election between GOP’s Brad Finstad, the DFL’s Jeff Ettinger and the two cannabis candidates.
In the special primary election held Tuesday to fill out the late GOP Congressman Jim Hagedorn’s term, twice as many Republicans turned out to vote as Democrats, 35,930 to 18,828. It suggests that Republicans are fired up, Democrats not so much.
“That’s very telling, because midterm elections are low-turnout affairs and intensity matters more in getting people to the polls when a lot of people aren’t voting,” said Steven Schier, a state political analyst.
In its analysis, the Cook Political Report rated the district as a “safe” seat for Republicans in the Aug. 9 special election.
It noted that Democrats were hoping to run against Freedom Caucus-backed state Rep. Jeremy Munson in the special election. But he was nosed out by Finstad, who represents the traditional wing of the party and had the backing of commodity groups and Rep. G.T. Thompson, next in line to chair the House Agriculture Committee.
“Democrats have an intriguing nominee in retired Hormel Foods CEO Jeff Ettinger, who has loaned his campaign $200,000,” the report said in its analysis. “But Democrats were hoping to face Munson, who was endorsed by Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, and cast him as too extreme."
In the 2020 presidential election in which Joe Biden prevailed, the 1st District went heavily for Donald Trump, 53.4% to 44.2%. The political character of the redrawn 1st District won’t be much different than the current one.
Ettinger, the DFL’s nominee in the special election, is the party’s endorsed candidate in the congressional general election. The GOP doesn’t have an endorsed candidate. Its nominee will be determined in the Aug. 9 primary, which is the same day of the special election.
Another factor favoring Republicans is “candidate quality,” Schier said.
Unlike Hagedorn, who had to overcome embarrassing blog posts in which he disparaged American Indians and female Supreme Court justices, Finstad at this point doesn’t have obvious blemishes on his record. He is a three-term state representative and was Trump’s state director for USDA Rural Development in Minnesota.
“Finstad, I think, is just a higher quality candidate overall and is more likely to show that in the campaign than Hagedorn did,” Schier said.
The final factor that could weigh down DFL prospects in Minnesota’s 1st District is the national mood. With inflation eating away at people’s purchasing power and everything from groceries and gas being more expensive, Biden’s public approval now stands at 36 percent, the lowest of his presidency.
“The national environment continues to be bad for Democrats,” Schier said. “And that affects Democrats in Minnesota.”