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Special election will decide Hagedorn's replacement

Minnesota congressman's death leaves vacancy that can't be filled through an appointment.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Voters in Minnesota's First Congressional District will decide who will fill the late Jim Hagedorn's shoes for the remainder of his second term.

When Congressman Jim Hagedorn died of cancer Thursday night, it created a vacancy in the US House that can't be filled through a gubernatorial appointment. That special election process will play out over the next six months, due to state and federal laws requiring that overseas voters are given plenty of time to cast their ballots.

Secretary of State Steve Simon said the primary will be May 24, and the main event will be on August 9.  The winner of that contest will take office immediately and serve the remaining five months of Hagedorn's second term in office.

That special election date coincides with the statewide August 9 primary for all of the posts up for election in November. Under state election laws, the candidates in the August special election can also run at the same time in the regular election.

So, it's conceivable First District voters will see the same name in two different races when the go to the polls that day. The candidate seeking the five-month special term may also be running in the primary for the two-year regular term.

Political analyst Steven Schier said he expects a very brisk competition among contenders looking to capture a rare open congressional seat in Minnesota.

"In an endorsing convention your connections will count for something, but for a primary you need funding and you need campaign organization. That's going to produce a lot of good candidates," Schier told KARE.

The First District stretches across the southern tier of Minnesota and is a largely rural district with the exceptions of Rochester and Winona. It has traditionally leaned Republican, and in 2020 then-President Trump won the district by 10%.

"We also have an environment nationally that does not look particularly promising for Democrats. So, all of this would encourage a heavily contested Republican primary."

There's also a good chance that National Republican Congressional Committee will actively recruit candidates they believe have the best chance of winning the seat and holding it for many years to come.

Republican candidates who've been mentioned the most so far include:

  • Hagedorn's widow Jennifer Carnahan, the former state GOP chair
  • Sen. Carla Nelson, who challenged Hagedorn in the 2018 primary
  • Sen. Julie Rosen of Fairmont
  • Rep. Jeremy Munson of Lake Crystal
  • Rep. Nels Pierson of Rochester
  • Former Rep. Brad Finstad of New Ulm

Gov. Tim Walz held the First District seat in Congress for six terms, fending off two challenges from Hagedorn in 2014 and 2016.  When Walz decided to run for governor in 2018 it created an opening for Hagedorn, who beat Democrat Dan Feehan by less than 1%.

Hagedorn won by a bigger margin in a rematch with Feehan in 2020, but that year a cannabis candidate, Bill Rood of the Grassroots Party, shaved away almost six points.

There's also a good chance that National Republican Congressional Committee will actively recruit candidates they believe have the best chance of winning the seat and holding it for many years to come.

Hagedorn's cancer battle

Rep. Hagedorn was diagnosed with advanced kidney cancer in February of 2019, shortly after taking office for his first term, and went public with it a year later in February of 2020.  He had managed to juggle his responsibilities in Washington with his intense treatment protocol at the Mayo Clinic.

In a 2020 interview with KARE, Hagedorn said he was fighting with all his might to do the job people have given him.

"The treatments have been outstanding. I always say, 'The healing hands of God and the Mayo Clinic are pulling me through'."

But in July of 2021, Hagedorn announced his cancer has resurfaced and he was heading back into treatments. As recently as last week, he was still introducing new bills.  He also sent a press release after new district maps were set by the courts earlier this week, saying he looked forward to representing the new areas added to the First District.

Jennifer Carnahan announced on his death on Facebook early Friday morning.

"While nothing can accurately prepare you for the unimaginable pain, intense sorrow, suffocating grief and seemingly never-ending emptiness that engulfs the entire body, soul and spirit when your forever love passes away; at least we can smile knowing Jim is smiling from heaven encouraging us to keep chasing our dreams, loving unconditionally and fighting for the country."  

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