Jim Hagedorn won the Republican endorsement for the First Congressional District U.S. House seat on Saturday, but state Sen. Carla Nelson of Rochester, his only rival, won’t end her campaign.
On the DFL side, political newcomer Dan Feehan won the endorsement. After he received 54 percent of votes on the first ballot — he needed 60 percent — his three top opponents made a motion that he be endorsed by acclamation.
Former state Rep. Vicki Jensen of Owatonna, Joe Sullivan of Mankato and Rich Wright of Rochester Township conceded at the convention in Le Sueur, Minn., and said that they will support Feehan.
A fifth DFL candidate, Johnny Akzam of Kasson, had said that he would continue his campaign without the endorsement, but he has not campaigned widely and does not have a high profile.
Hagedorn and Nelson will square off in the Aug. 14 primary. The winner will compete with Feehan to succeed U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, a Democrat who is running for governor. Walz eked out a re-election win in 2016, when the district gave President Donald Trump a victory over Hillary Clinton, 53 to 38 percent.
Trump’s trade policies, particularly his threatened tariffs against China, are a key issue in the heavily agricultural First District. China has said it would retaliate with tariffs on pork, corn and soybeans.
The seat is on target lists of both national parties and is considered to be a tossup.
Hagedorn collected 76 percent of votes Saturday to Nelson’s 21 percent. “The delegates really enjoyed our message of conservative optimism, unity of the party and hard work,” Hagedorn said in an interview Saturday.
Asked if Nelson should drop out, he said, “I don’t ever get into that. Candidates have to make their own decisions.”
Hagedorn said he’s been focused all along on the general election and won’t alter his strategy because of Nelson’s plan to stay in the race.
Nelson said in a statement that “the stakes are too high for us to not put our best candidate forward in November, and that’s why I came out early in this process and said that I was running in the primary.”
Hagedorn, 55, who lives in Blue Earth and is the son of former U.S. Rep. Tom Hagedorn, is running a fourth time to represent the 21-county district along the Iowa border.
In an interview, state Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan offered Nelson no encouragement. “Every candidate is entitled to make the decision that they feel is best,” she said, but the party “takes the endorsement process seriously.”
Republicans gathering in Mankato delivered a surprise result in a straw poll on the GOP governor’s race. Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson finished first, followed by Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who instantly became a top-tier candidate when he joined the race on April 5, was third and Phil Parrish was fourth.
Feehan, 35, is an Army veteran and former Pentagon official and teacher. The motto of his Army company was “the only easy day was yesterday,” he said in an interview Saturday, and “the hard work begins now.”
Describing his message for the general-election campaign, Feehan said, “What southern Minnesota recognizes first and foremost is a shared value of putting bigger things above yourself.” That “shared connection,” he said, “is going to excite people come the fall.”
Jim Hepworth, chairman of the First District DFL, said he was gratified that the convention ended with a gesture of unity by Feehan’s opponents.
“The intent we had was that [other candidates’ supporters] could be disappointed,” he said. “We didn’t want people going away mad.”
Feehan and Hagedorn have some qualities in common: Neither has been elected to office, both spent part of their careers in Washington, D.C., and both led the competition for cash in their races.
Campaign finance reports released last week showed that Feehan had raised about $567,000 for his campaign since last July. Over the same period, Hagedorn’s donations totaled $636,000.
Hagedorn grew up on a farm near Truman, Minn. He was a legislative assistant to former U.S. Rep Arlen Stangeland, R-Minn. He later was director for legislative and public affairs for the Financial Management Service at the U.S. Treasury Department and liaison to Congress at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, a Treasury agency.
He first ran for the First District seat in 2010, and in 2014 and 2016 lost to Walz in the general election.
Feehan was born in St. Paul and grew up in Red Wing. In the Army, he served in Iraq, earning a Bronze Star for service, the Army Commendation Medal with valor and the Ranger tab.
After his military career, he was a teacher in Chicago and Gary, Ind. During the Obama administration, Feehan was a White House fellow and later an acting assistant secretary of defense.
DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said in a statement that Hagedorn’s “unwavering support of GOP legislation has harmed family farms, increased health care costs, and funneled wealth to the richest one percent.”
Martin also commented on U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis’ endorsement Saturday by Second Congressional District Republicans. District residents, Martin said, “deserve a representative that puts everyday families first. That’s not Jason Lewis.”
Lewis was not challenged for the Republican endorsement. He’ll face Angie Craig, a former executive at St. Jude Medical who defeated Jeff Erdmann, a teacher and football coach, for the DFL endorsement last weekend.