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Hagedorn's camp says he's running, yet uncertainty reigns over CD1 race

Congressional redistricting is the 'X' factor that won't be known until February. The congressman's health is an mystery, too.

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U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn speaks at a Town Hall meeting on Wednesday, July 7, 2021, at La Crescent Area Event Center in La Crescent.
Post Bulletin file photo / Traci Westcott

ROCHESTER — With Election Day on the horizon, the race for the congressional seat held by Rep. Jim Hagedorn remains shrouded in fog.

Uncertainty reigns at a stage when candidates usually have presented themselves and prepared for political battle.

So far, not a single DFL candidate in the 1st District has stepped forward to announce a run for Congress. And while Hagedorn has signaled his intention to run for a third term, the GOP congressman is battling cancer, has been hospitalized for COVID-19, and little is known about his health status.

The biggest uncertainty looming over the district is redistricting. Political observers say that until the new boundaries of congressional districts are known — and they won’t be known until mid-February — it makes sense for candidates to hold their fire.

“A district like the (1st Congressional District) could alter significantly, because of the increased concentration in the metro area. I can see why that would give any potential candidate pause,” said Steven Schier, a retired political science professor.

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Precinct caucuses set for Tuesday, Feb. 1 usually herald the start of campaign season.

Hagedorn, of Blue Earth, earlier this month announced that he had tested positive for COVID and was experiencing very mild symptoms, but as a precautionary measure, was admitted to Mayo Clinic for observation and treatment.

Hagedorn was first diagnosed with stage IV kidney cancer in 2019. After a months-long remission, tests conducted last year at Mayo revealed that his cancer had returned.

There have been no public updates on Hagedorn’s health since his Jan. 4 press release announcing that he had contracted COVID. Neither Hagedorn’s campaign spokesperson, Aaron Eberhart, nor his communications director, Lia Palazzo, responded to emails inquiring about his health or whether he remains in the hospital.

“There isn’t a lot of public information about his actual physical health,” Schier said. “We don’t know what’s going on there. Maybe that's why everything is so tentative.”

When asked about Hagedorn’s political plans, Eberhart issued a statement that strongly suggested the GOP congressman would run again, but it still fell short of a simple declaration.

“Yesterday, Congressman Hagedorn put out another call for delegates in an email to activists and said, ‘I would sincerely appreciate your support as a delegate to be the party’s nominee as I seek a third term,'” Eberhart wrote in an email.

Hagedorn's Twitter and Facebook accounts remain active.

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Jerod Spilman, chairman of the GOP 1st Congressional District, said he hasn’t spoken to Hagedorn recently about his political intentions, but that all indications are that he will run. Hagedorn is raising money for his campaign. It’s just that he hasn’t announced yet.

“Again, the 'X' factor or the change factor is we’re not sure where the boundaries will be, as far as redistricting goes,” Spilman said.

One political observer noted that one proposed 1st District map does not include Hagedorn’s Blue Earth home. That would not preclude him from running in the district as long as he lives in Minnesota.

In past elections, Hagedorn has performed stronger in the western part of the district than in the eastern part. But he has generally done well almost everywhere in the district except for Blue Earth, Olmsted and Winona counties.

There are five DFLers considering a run for the state’s 1st District. Mark Liebow, DFL chair of Senate District 26, said he was given that number by the 1st District DFL chairman, but was not informed the candidates' names.

Dan Feehan, who has lost two previous elections to Hagedorn, is reportedly also considering another run. He was in Rochester last October when he expressed the possibility, Liebow said.

Feehan did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Another factor that could be giving DFL candidates pause is the national mood. With President Joe Biden’s approval rating in the 40s, Congress could be poised for a shakeup. Democrats narrowly control both the House and Senate.

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“The environment looks good for Republicans,” Schier said. “They’d probably be in the majority if the election were held today.”

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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