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U.S. House control could hinge on Jim Hagedorn, ‘worst Republican candidate in America'

Jim Hagedorn's fourth run for Congress in southern Minnesota is underway. Could this year belong to him?

Jim Hagedorn's fourth run for Congress in southern Minnesota is underway. Could this year belong to him? Star Tribune

Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District stretches clear across the southernmost end of the state, from Luverne to Winona.

Since 2006, it has been the seat of Mankato Democrat Rep. Tim Walz, who succeeded six-term Republican Gil Gutknecht, and held on as one of the last Democrats defending a seat that voted moderate-to-conservative in other races.

During much of Walz's tenure in Congress, CD 1 was home to another near-constant figure in the political spotlight: Republican pick Jim Hagedorn of Blue Earth.

Hagedorn, son of U.S. Congressman Thomas Hagedorn and a former U.S. Treasury Employee, has tried three times to wrest control of the district from Walz since 2010, when he failed to win his party’s endorsement. He won the Republican nod in 2014, but lost to Walz by nine points. In 2016, he came back with a vengeance and ran within 3,000 votes of toppling Walz. Hagedorn underperformed (or Walz overperformed) compared to the top of the ticket, where Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 14 points among CD 1 voters.

Hagedorn's primary win last week marks his fourth attempt at winning the seat his father once held. It's different this time though, with the incumbent vacating the congressional post for a shot at the governorship. (Walz also won his primary last week.) The open seat leaves Hagedorn to spar with DFL newcomer Dan Feehan, who, like Walz, has a background that combines military service and teaching. With the district’s conservative momentum and Walz’s departure, the Cook Political Report is calling District 1 a “toss-up.” This may be the best chance Hagedorn has at seeing Washington.

That has heads turning for two reasons. One: because District 1 is seen as an important foothold for Democrats to reclaim control of Congress. It’s like a slightly more conservative Congressional District 8; according to Cook, Minnesota's 1st and 8th District's are the only two "toss-up" races where Democrats are at risk of losing a seat. 

And two: because Hagedorn has a certain reputation with those who have been following his career. He was a known political figure long before he first ran for Walz’s seat, known more for what he'd written than what he'd said.

Before he was a Congressional hopeful, Hagedorn was a bombastic conservative blogger. One of his favorite targets for his vitriol was then presidential hopeful Barack Obama -- whose campaign he referred to as a “low-budget remake of Eddie Murphy’s hit comedy Coming to America" -- though there were plenty of others.

In 2002, he called Democrat Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray “undeserving bimbos in tennis shoes.” He also accused Democrats of using the names of deceased Native Americans on absentee ballots -- or as he called them, “chiefs and squaws who had returned to the spirit world many moons ago.”

“Leave it to liberals to ruin John Wayne’s wisdom of the only good Indian being a dead Indian,” he said.

He ranted about the 2003 Lawrence et al v. Texas decision, which determined that two consenting men should be able to have sex without fear of being arrested (“Lone Star Sodomites v. God and Country”), calling it “an abomination on par with the deviancy it attempted to condone.” In 2005, he called Harriet Miers’ Supreme Court nomination an effort “to fill the bra of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.”

By 2008, he was praising presidential hopeful John McCain for choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate: “THANK YOU SENATOR MCCAIN, SARAH’S HOT!” He also had a hot take on California’s Proposition 8, which nullified (temporarily) a previous California Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriage: “Thankfully Californians remain at least partially sane and will deny society’s stamp of approval for ass backwards behavior.”

During his 2014 election attempt, he was asked if he owed voters an apology for profusely lambasting what roughly amounts to a majority of them. He didn’t believe so. He feels the same way today.

“Whatever I wrote in those days, that’s where we are,” Hagedorn tells City Pages.

His blogging past compelled the Washington Examiner to call him the “worst Republican candidate in America.” Hagedorn, for his part, feels good about his chances. He’s had five years to get acquainted with the district, and says his opinions “reflect the views and values” of the people of southern Minnesota. Hagedorn's 2016 showing bolsters his confidence, and his opponent, Feehan, is “farther to the left than even Tim Walz.”

The blog stuff comes back up every time he runs, he says. But this year is different. This year could be his.