WASHINGTON, D.C. – Jim Hagedorn’s congressional campaign shifted from underdog story to cautionary tale in a matter of days.
From an unexpected primary victory to unearthed inflammatory blog posts, the Blue Earth Republican’s bid to unseat Democratic Rep. Tim Walz has already seen its share of highs and lows.
Now Hagedorn is hoping the First Congressional District race has at least one more dramatic plot twist.
With few resources at his disposal, Hagedorn is hanging his hopes for another upset on the nation’s growing frustration with Congress and an anti-big government platform he hopes will resonate with voters in southern Minnesota.
In Walz, he faces a go-to guy for House Democrats on veterans and agricultural issues. The four-term incumbent also has pressed President Obama’s administration on rail safety related to hauling crude oil and hazardous materials.
Walz sat on the House-Senate conference committees that wrote legislation to overhaul the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs health care system and negotiated the new five-year farm bill, a key piece of legislation for his sprawling, mostly rural district.
Next on the to-do list for the retired National Guard command sergeant major: Marshaling support for a bipartisan bill to address suicide among U.S. veterans.
Walz declined to comment on the blog posts in which Hagedorn assailed women, American Indians, gays and national political figures that have recently resurfaced and are dogging his campaign.
After defending the writings as political satire, Hagedorn issued an apology from his Facebook page that said the old comments were dug up to “deflect attention from the serious problems confronting our nation.”
Some GOP leaders denounced Hagedorn’s candidacy after he dropped out of the race and then jumped back in to defeat the party-endorsed candidate, Aaron Miller, in the August primary. First Congressional District GOP Chairwoman Carol Stevenson expects the party to rally around Hagedorn as Election Day nears.
“They’re going to wise up and realize it’s Jim Hagedorn or Walz,” Stevenson said.
Like father like son?
Hagedorn is attempting to follow in the footsteps of his father, Tom Hagedorn, who represented parts of southern Minnesota from 1975 until 1983, when he was ousted by then-Democrat Tim Penny.
This isn’t Hagedorn’s first bid. He tried and failed to secure GOP endorsement in the district in 2010. Before returning to Minnesota in 2009, he had spent most of his adult life in Washington, D.C. Among other stints, he worked as an aide to former Rep. Arlan Stangeland, R-Minn., in the late 1980s, then worked at the U.S. Treasury Department.
Hagedorn has struggled to raise campaign cash since his upset win in the primary. He had just $9,000 in cash-on-hand as of the latest Federal Election Commission reporting deadline but said Walz’s “liberal” voting record is “worth a million dollars in free advertising.”
‘No time off’
Reservations about Hagedorn’s viability are evident in national circles. The National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans, has yet to back his campaign. The NRCC had pegged Miller as an up-and-coming recruit.
At last count, Walz had more than $500,000 banked for his re-election bid. Representing a Republican-leaning district, Walz isn’t taking re-election for granted.
Two years ago, Walz defeated his opponent by more than 15 percentage points. But in 2010, the last nonpresidential election year, his margin of victory was about 5 percentage points.
As the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline Program, Walz has been tapped for his experience in close races: He mentors incumbents in competitive districts.
“There is no time off in these districts,” Walz said.