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First Congressional race expects to draw flurry of interest

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While no DFL candidates have yet to announce their candidacy for the 1st Congressional District held by U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, the field could get crowded within the next month or so.

Dan Feehan, a 34-year-old Army veteran who served as assistant secretary of defense in the Obama administration, is preparing to run for the seat, the Wall Street Journal reported this week. Although he hasn't lived in the district since he was 14, Feehan grew up in it and reportedly is house-hunting in Mankato, with his wife and two children. Feehan still lives in Washington.

"I'm on a very steep learning curve to learn everything that goes into this and to maintain every aspect of authenticity that I have," Feehan, who hasn't run for political office before, was quoted as saying in the journal article.

Another candidate who is mulling a run for the DFL party is John Austinson, a teacher and coach for Byron Public Schools, a DFL leader said. Austinson lost to incumbent and state GOP Rep. Nels Pierson last year in his first bid for office. Democratic state Sen. Nick Frentz, a first-term senator from North Mankato, also has been mentioned.

More names on the DFL and GOP side could emerge in the coming weeks as summer parade season nears and candidates get the itch to press the flesh.

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Walz announced earlier this year that he is running for governor, and the open seat is drawing covetous looks from several would-be candidates in both parties.

"I think we're going to have a lot of people that are interested, whether or not they're going to become candidates," said Jim Hepworth, vice chair of the DFL 1st Congressional District. "We've had about 12 people reach out just to see if they can meet with our committee."

Bubbling interest also is mirrored on the GOP side. Olmsted County Republican Chair Aaron Miller, Rep. Joe Schomacker and Pierson all have said they are considering bids, according to the political blog Morning Take, while Jim Hagedorn, the 2014 and 2016 Republican nominee, has announced he's running again.

President Donald Trump won the district by 15 percentage points in November, but the district historically has swayed to the political winds at the presidential level.

Hepworth believes the political climate will be more conducive to DFL candidates. The Trump bump, he said, was an anomaly.

"I think we're going to be back to a more normal type of environment," Hepworth said. "I think there's going to be some pushback on some of the things that have been happening in Washington, D.C., lately. We saw a budget that's come out that really isn't helpful to this area."

But GOP leaders see an opportunity to reclaim a House seat that has been in Democratic hands for the past decade.

Jeremy Munson, GOP First District chairman, notes of the top 10 Republican-leaning districts occupied by a Democrat across the nation, Minnesota's 1st district is No. 2, right behind the state's 8th district. He notes the 1st District DFL party often is to the left of Walz as its voters went for Bernie Sanders in the primary.

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"It's being heavily targeted by the RNC," Munson said. "We're excited about this race."

Feehan's mention in the Journal story was part of a larger look at the national map. It noted the last time Democrats won a House majority was in part because of the unpopularity of the Iraq War. Now, many of those who fought in America's post-9/11 conflicts are running as candidates.

The Democratic party is running military veterans in competitive congressional districts across the country: 15 veterans already have launched 2018 House campaigns, and 10 more may enter races by the summer, the journal quoted Democratic leaders as saying.

But Feehan will have to overcome the carpetbagger label the GOP will seek to attach to him if he does run.

"The Obama administration has kind of handpicked somebody to come and be a carpetbagger for our district," Munson said. "I don't think the Democrats like this top-down dictating who the candidate is supposed to be."

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