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Some GOPers wary of running after relationship revealed

Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan recently disclosed to party leaders that she is dating 1st Congressional District candidate Jim Hagedorn.

Jim Hagedorn and Jennifer Carnahan
Jim Hagedorn and Jennifer Carnahan
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Some potential Republican congressional candidates say they are hesitant to run for the 1st District seat following news that the state party chairwoman and Republican candidate Jim Hagedorn are in a relationship.

Rep. Nels Pierson said after he learned that Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan and Hagedorn were dating, it prompted him to delay making a decision about whether to run.

"The reality is we're hearing that this is just a nothing deal and no conflicts are there — yada, yada. But the reality is, it's hard to believe that as a candidate," Pierson said.

The disclosure also prompted Olmsted County Republican Party Chairman Aaron Miller to reassess whether to run for the seat.

"We knew about the allegations late last week before it was confirmed today. Does this influence our decision to run or not? It does. Because of the conflict of interest that exists. I believe there is no way to separate state party activities and those activities of the chair from this race," Miller said.

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But party leaders say there is no cause for concern. Minnesota First District Republicans Chairman Jeremy Munson said Carnahan told him during a phone call last week that she and Hagedorn are in a relationship. He said that the state party chairwoman is not involved in the district endorsement process. Instead, it is his responsibility to make sure it is fair to all the candidates.

"Now that we know there isn't a conflict, we're just going to work to make sure that I can maintain fairness throughout the endorsement process," Munson said.

In an interview, Carnahan said that she did disclose information about a relationship with members of the party's state executive committee. When asked specifically whether she is dating Hagedorn, Carnahan said, "I don't really want to comment on my personal life."

Carnahan said the state party does not play a role in endorsements for congressional district seats. That is left to district party leaders. Her job is to focus on the endorsement process for statewide races, including governor and U.S. Senate.

"I have full confidence in our leadership team down there to run a fair endorsement process, and we're confident that we'll pick up that seat," Carnahan said.

Hagedorn confirmed during an interview that he is dating Carnahan. He declined to discuss how long they have been dating. He said any potential Republican candidates for the 1st Congressional District race don't need to be concerned about him getting any sort of preferential treatment by the state party.

"I would not ask for it, nor seek it, nor do I believe I need any support from the state party apparatus to win the First District endorsement endorsement," Hagedorn said.

So far, Hagedorn is the only Republican running for the open 1st Congressional District seat. He narrowly lost to 1st District DFL Rep. Tim Walz last year. In March, Walz announced he would not seek re-election. Instead, he is running for governor in 2018. That has set the stage for what is expected to be one of the most competitive U.S. House races in Minnesota and the nation.

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Several other GOP candidates are considering bids, including Miller, Pierson, state Sen. Carla Nelson and state Rep. Joe Schomacker. Five Democrats have already announced they are running for the open seat. They are Rochester web developer Johnny Akzam, Byron teacher John Austinson, Army veteran Dan Feehan, electronic pull-tabs salesman Colin Minehart and former state Sen. Vicki Jensen.

Nelson said she is still seriously considering running for the seat. She added that the fact Carnahan and Hagedorn are in a relationship won't have an impact on whether she runs.

"No, nothing like whom somebody is dating would keep me from making a decision about whether or not I was going to run for Congress. I would not let that deter me in any way. Full disclosure is important, and apparently there is full disclosure, and I'm sure whatever happens I would expect there to be strict controls on fairness," Nelson said.

In the event that there ends up being a Republican primary, Munson said he is planning to propose some rules to make sure any potential conflicts of interest are avoided.

"We just need to put in perhaps some rules to ensure fairness, to make sure the appearance of bias is not there. We have to be extra careful in our district," he said.

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