The most powerful married couple in Minnesota Republican politics are having quite the election cycle.
U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn and his spouse of nearly two years, Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan, both have much at stake this November. Hagedorn, a one-term congressman from southern Minnesota, is in a tough fight for re-election even as he’s treated for kidney cancer.
And Carnahan is the public face of the state GOP’s effort to regain political ground, most notably in President Donald Trump’s high-profile push to flip the state in his favor.
As Hagedorn faces a well-funded rematch with Democrat Dan Feehan, he’s had to respond to revelations about the use of taxpayer-funded mail by his congressional office that’s been criticized by his political rivals and government ethics experts.
Hagedorn even found himself subject to an unusually public pushback by his former congressional chief of staff, whom Hagedorn had publicly blamed for the mail snafu.
In an update to constituents on Sept. 15, Hagedorn said he’s responded well to Mayo Clinic treatment for kidney cancer and that his disease has not progressed.
Carnahan, who was a political newcomer when she pulled off an upset win for GOP chair back in 2017, is also in a tumultuous stretch. Last week the party’s executive director unexpectedly quit, with no official word from the party as to why. And Trump’s visit to Minnesota just days before he revealed his COVID-19 diagnosis has forced multiple party big names (though not Carnahan) into self-quarantine.
The DFL, which has criticized Carnahan for not wearing a mask at party events, has kept up the drumbeat. Last week, the party disclosed a string of e-mails, obtained by an FOIA request, that show a staffer in Hagedorn’s D.C. office e-mailing a National Park Service official on short notice last Dec. 19 to request free entrance and private guided tours for Carnahan at several parks in Arizona.
“Mrs. Carnahan would love to have a private guided tour of the Grand Canyon (preferably within the next hour.) She was wondering if the same could be arranged for her as she visits Horseshoe Bend this afternoon, and Angels Landing tomorrow. Likewise, she hopes to get the entry fee waived, as she is a member’s spouse,” the e-mail from Hagedorn’s office reads.
After a park official e-mailed Carnahan to say it may be too late, Carnahan was polite in response: “Thanks. Understood either way,” she wrote.
Carnahan’s DFL counterpart, Ken Martin, said it’s an example of Hagedorn “unethically using government resources for his personal benefit. … Now he’s using his government position to get free things for his wife.”
Hagedorn’s campaign derided the e-mails as “personal attacks.” They responded that “Members of Congress and their spouses are encouraged to inform the National Park Service whenever they visit Park Service facilities. Jennifer is an avid hiker who sought whatever assistance was available and purchased her own park passes.”
But it may not be the attention Carnahan and Hagedorn, or the party, need.