MINNEAPOLIS — Candidates in a southern Minnesota congressional district that represents one of the best opportunities for Republicans to flip a Democratic-held House seat clashed Friday about health care, trade and President Donald Trump.
Republican Jim Hagedorn said in a debate on Minnesota Public Radio that Trump is moving America in the right direction. But Democrat Dan Feehan promised to be independent voice in a Congress where GOP lawmakers are afraid to stand up against the president.
Here's a look at the debate and the backstory on one of America's most closely watched congressional matchups:
Hagedorn, a former Treasury Department official and son of former Rep. Tom Hagedorn, is making his fourth run for the seat. He lost to Democratic Rep. Tim Walz by less than a percentage point in 2016 while Trump carried the district by 15 points.
Feehan, an Army veteran who served two combat tours in Iraq, was acting assistant secretary of defense for readiness in President Barack Obama's administration. The former middle school teacher is making his first run for public office.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RACE
The 1st District race is seen as one of the GOP's best chances anywhere for picking up a seat now held by a Democrat. A northeastern Minnesota race is another. Both districts are key to the Republican counterattack as Democrats try to win the 23 seats they need to take control of the House.
THE TRUMP FACTOR
Hagedorn stressed his support for Trump, who campaigned for him in Rochester last week. He cited Trump's tax cut, and his efforts to control America's borders and cut regulations. And he faulted Feehan for opposing the president on those issues.
"Which direction are we going to go?" Hagedorn asked. "Are we going to go the direction of the resistance, the people that want to replace President Trump, the people that want to take us back to the Obama years and then some?"
Feehan said he'd be "an independent voice in Washington," not beholden to party leaders or corporate interests. He said Congress is dysfunctional because it has become "hyper-partisan" with GOP lawmakers unwilling to work across the aisle or to be "a check and balance against the president."
Hagedorn challenged Feehan's independence.
"You're not an independent voice, you're a very leftist voice, and you're going to go back there, you're going to work with (House Minority Leader Nancy) Pelosi, and you're going to work against the president every step of the way," Hagedorn said.
TRADE AND AGRICULTURE
Trump's escalating trade war with China has made southern Minnesota farmers nervous as prices for soybeans, corn and pork have fallen. Hagedorn said he doesn't like tariffs but trusts the president, saying his tough approach has already worked with Canada and Mexico .
Feehan pointed out that Hagedorn stood alongside Trump in Rochester as the president claimed his trade approach has been great for Minnesota farmers.
"I think there's no more telling an example of an unwillingness to stand up to the president," Feehan said.
Fixing health care is another critical issue in the district, home to Rochester's Mayo Clinic. Feehan called for giving the public an option to buy into Medicare coverage and keeping Mayo deeply involved in the debate.
Hagedorn said he'd repeal and replace Obama's health care law with "free-market reforms." He said letting people buy into Medicare would "destroy medicine as we know it" because Medicare pays doctors and hospitals less than private insurance, which he said would harm Mayo and its expansion plans.