Opinion editor’s note:  The Star Tribune Editorial Board operates separately from the newsroom, and no news editors or reporters were involved in the endorsement process.

In 2018, Democrat Dan Feehan won the Star Tribune Editorial Board’s enthusiastic endorsement to represent southern Minnesota in the U.S. House.

A decorated combat veteran with impressive experience, including a stint as an acting assistant secretary of defense, Feehan’s breadth of knowledge, eloquence and commitment to public service easily made him a standout among those candidates running for office in Minnesota that year.

Two years after losing the 2018 race by 1,315 votes, the 38-year-old father of three from North Mankato is again the clear choice in the First Congressional District. A promising talent during his first run, Feehan has become an even stronger candidate in 2020 and gets our recommendation again over Republican Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who is seeking a second term. Also on the ballot: Bill Rood of the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party of Minnesota.

Feehan’s work since 2018 with the National Farmers Union, as well as consulting work with several reputable nonprofits, has focused on issues deeply important to this district: agriculture, education, veterans’ issues and health care. The additional experience has forged deeper connections to the district and made him an even stronger advocate for southern Minnesota families, farmers and businesses.

Feehan’s differences with Hagedorn on a key issue — health care — have also become more important in the past two years.

Feehan calls for thoughtfully building on the Affordable Care Act to broaden access to coverage. Many rural families don’t make enough to afford coverage on their own, but make too much to afford the health law’s aid to buy private insurance, a plight recently described in a Star Tribune editorial. Feehan’s fixes would include expanding eligibility to these subsidies and opening up other routes to coverage, such as lowering the Medicare eligibility age.

Hagedorn, 58, declined the Editorial Board’s invitation for an endorsement interview. But his party’s health “plan” amounts to blowing up the system, as evidenced by its efforts to repeal the law and more recently, its support for a lawsuit that could overturn the ACA. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear this challenge next month. If the law is overturned, it would create massive uncertainty for consumers and Mayo Clinic, the district’s large health care provider.

Feehan and Hagedorn also have critical disagreements about how best to manage COVID-19. Feehan’s time at the Pentagon involved helping coordinate the fight to contain Ebola in Africa. He believes that a national strategy is needed to get COVID under control in the U.S.

Hagedorn has been a loyal defender of President Donald Trump’s pandemic response. A social media post from Hagedorn that downplayed viral risks was publicly denounced by a Mayo physician earlier this year.

In the recent TV debate, Hagedorn’s comments suggested he saw COVID as mainly a problem in urban areas. In reality, counties in his district that are home to meatpacking plants have been particularly hard hit in the pandemic.

Hagedorn’s work ethic after his kidney cancer diagnosis is admirable, and the Editorial Board hopes he’ll continue to respond well to his treatment.

While he’s courageously handled that adversity, the congressman’s first term has been marred by ethics questions. One controversy involved the amount of tax dollars spent on constituent mailings that were produced by companies with ties to his campaign. And last week, a Politico story raised questions about rent-free office space.

Southern Minnesota has a chance to elect a battle-tested new leader with the skill set to become powerful advocate for rural families and businesses small and large. Feehan, again, is the best candidate in Minnesota’s First District.