Republican Brad Finstad defeated Democrat Jeff Ettinger in the special election race Tuesday to fill the vacant congressional seat in southern Minnesota.
Finstad, a former U.S. Department of Agriculture official, and Ettinger, the former CEO of Hormel Foods, were vying to complete the term of the late GOP U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who died in February after suffering from kidney cancer.
Finstad will represent Minnesota's First District until January. He and Ettinger will have a rematch in November, with the full two-year congressional term on the line. The two easily won their respective parties' primary elections Tuesday, earning spots on the November ballot.
"I'm just so humbled and honored to have the support of so many folks in southern Minnesota," Finstad said, adding he will prioritize "pocketbook issues" such as inflated costs and supply chain problems in Congress.
The 46-year-old Finstad was the U.S. Department of Agriculture's state director for rural development in Minnesota during the Trump administration and served in the Minnesota House from 2003-2009. He also spent time as executive director of the Center for Rural Policy and Development, and in a leading role with the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. Finstad and his family own agronomy company Frontier Labs and have a farm where they grow soybeans and corn.
Ettinger, 63, is a first-time political candidate from Austin, Minn., who served as Hormel's chief executive from 2005-2016. Under Ettinger's leadership, Hormel's annual revenue nearly doubled. He's a moderate who's donated to both Democrats and Republicans in the past.
"We both knew going into this that there was going to be a rematch in November," Ettinger said, projecting confidence about his chances. "A November race typically gets four times the turnout of an August race in Minnesota."
Two cannabis legalization party candidates, Haroun McClellan and Richard Reisdorf, were also on the First District's special election ballot.
At Finstad's election-night party in Sleepy Eye, Bryce and Shelly Boelter of New Ulm said they liked Finstad over other candidates because of his willingness to negotiate with rather than attack Democrats.
And Finstad stood out to the Boelters because of his agricultural experience, his stance as an abortion opponent and his Christian values, they said.
"We are looking for somebody who can govern with fairness, and treat all people well, and penalize those who break the law," said Bryce Boelter, 57.
Steve Gilles, of New Ulm, said he thinks Finstad's values are in line with those living in the First District. Gilles, who attended Finstad's election party, said he's known the Republican for 15 years.
"Knowing who Brad is and knowing his family values and personal values, that's what sticks out to me," said Gilles, 47.
Finstad defeated his general election primary opponent, GOP state Rep. Jeremy Munson. Munson had challenged the GOP-endorsed Finstad against the Minnesota Republican Party's wishes.
Just after 9 p.m. Tuesday, Finstad declared victory in the Republican primary contest.
"We'll see how the rest of the night goes, but I guess we wake up tomorrow and we're going on to November," Finstad said.
Ettinger easily defeated Democratic primary opponents James Rainwater and George Kalberer, winning a spot on the November ballot.
Earlier Tuesday in Rochester, several voters said they supported Ettinger and other Minnesota Democrats in hopes they would fight for abortion and LGBTQ rights.
Erik St. Louis, 57, said he hoped an Ettinger win would bring Congress closer to codifying abortion rights into federal law.
"I think that issue spoke to me pretty heavily this year," he said.
Nancy Neumann, 73, said she wanted to see the First District turn blue because she feels Republicans in Congress are more interested in working for their party than the country.
"Right now, I would not touch a Republican with a 10-foot pole," Neumann said.
The boundaries of the First District, which includes most of southern Minnesota between the South Dakota and Wisconsin borders, were redrawn this year. Under the new map, the district shed Le Sueur County and gained Goodhue and Wabasha counties.
The old map was used for Finstad's and Ettinger's special election contest. The new one will be used in November, giving Goodhue and Wabasha county residents a say in the rematch.