By Jim EllisFeb. 22, 2022 — After a long battle with kidney cancer, Minnesota US Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R-Blue Earth/Rochester) passed away at the age of 59 on Friday, the third sitting House member to die in office during the current congressional session. Reps. Ron Wright (R-TX) and Alcee Hastings (D-FL) passed away earlier in the year. Additionally, Rep-Elect Luke Letlow (R-LA) died of COVID in late 2020, just before he would have taken office in January of 2021.
The Hagedorn death creates a vacancy in the Minnesota delegation. Gov. Tim Walz (D), who previously represented the now vacant 1st District that stretches the width of Minnesota’s southern border, will call a special election to fill the remainder of the current term.
Under the state’s election law, the special primary will be May 24, 11 weeks prior to the special general, which will run concurrent with the regular 2022 primary election on Aug. 9. The eventual winner will serve the balance of Hagedorn’s final term.
The current 1st District is politically marginal in congressional elections and has flipped back and forth between the two parties after Democrat Tim Penny won the seat in 1982, becoming the first member of his party to represent the district since 1893. Penny, former Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R) and Walz each would represent the district for six terms apiece until Hagedorn was elected.
Conversely, the 1st runs considerably stronger for Republicans at the top of the ticket. Former President Trump carried the seat both in 2016 and 2020. He posted a 53-38 percent margin in his initial election, and a 54-44% spread in his ultimately unsuccessful re-election effort.
Rep. Hagedorn’s two victories, however, were close contests. In his first victorious election, after failing in three previous attempts, the result was a tight 50.1 – 49.7 percent in a 2018 open-seat campaign against former defense department official Dan Feehan. The congressman then scored a 48.6 – 45.5 percent re-election victory again over Feehan.
A special election in this district could well be a strong precursor test for the 2022 midterms since both parties will field strong candidates, heavily contest the outcome, and the winner will likely claim the seat with only a small victory spread.
According to the FiveThirtyEight data organization, the new MN-1 registers as a R+14 seat based upon past voting history. The current MN-1, and the district boundaries that will host the special election, is a R+15 seat according to the consistent research formula.
With the past three most recent congressional elections producing a winning percentage of no more than 50.3 percent – Gov. Walz’s last congressional race in 2016 resulted in a 50.3 – 49.6 percent victory margin over Hagedorn – the seat will likely be competitive in a special election despite what looks like a strong Republican voter history number.
Though it is too early for candidate speculation, one name that will certainly rise to the surface is the congressman’s widow, former Minnesota Republican Party chair Jennifer Carnahan. Feehan will again be discussed for the Democrats as will state Rep. Tina Liebling (D-Rochester). State Sen. Carla Nelson (R), who ran for the seat in 2018, is another potential candidate.
The MN-1 vacancy takes the Republican conference down to 211 members. The other seat in a special election cycle is CA-22, where former California Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) resigned from Congress at the end of last year. This seat will be filled in a June 7 special runoff after an April 5 primary election.