Finstad wins, but CD1 rematch coming Nov. 8

·4 min read

Aug. 11—MANKATO — New Ulm Republican Brad Finstad will be the next congressman from southern Minnesota.

But what looked like a convincing victory for much of Tuesday night narrowed substantially by the time the final votes were counted in the special election to fill the vacancy created by the Feb. 17 death of Republican Congressman Jim Hagedorn.

Finstad received 50.77% of the vote in the 1st District contest compared 46.74% for Democrat Jeff Ettinger, according to final totals released by the Minnesota secretary of state.

After holding a lead that was closer to 20 percentage points in the early hours of vote-counting, Finstad watched the margin shrink to 4 percentage points after votes were tabulated early Wednesday morning in some of the district's largest counties.

The tight race sets the stage for Nov. 8, when voters in the general election will decide who gets the seat for a two-year term. Finstad's special election victory earns him the seat only through Jan. 3, when the term won by Hagedorn in 2020 expires.

Ettinger, the retired CEO of Austin-based Hormel Foods, sent out a statement just after 7 a.m. congratulating Finstad while also expressing confidence about the general election.

"Though I had hoped to celebrate different news with you all, there is plenty for which to be hopeful," Ettinger said. "We won big in our primary, we outperformed pundits and polls, and we have momentum in a new, advantageous district."

The reference to the primary election reflected the unusual situation facing voters and candidates in southern Minnesota Tuesday night. Because of the timing of the vacancy created by Hagedorn's death from kidney cancer, voters were deciding between Finstad and Ettinger in the special election in the current 1st District while also picking Republican and Democratic nominees for the Nov. 8 election in a new 1st District, somewhat reconfigured by redistricting following the 2020 census.

The current district consists of all or parts of 21 counties. Finstad prevailed in 16 mostly rural counties, and Ettinger won five higher-population counties — Olmsted, Blue Earth, Winona, Mower and Nicollet.

Finstad won Le Sueur County, which will be shifting to the 2nd District in the Nov. 8 election, by 1,169 votes. He performed even better in eastern Cottonwood and western Brown counties, which will be shifting to the 7th District. For instance, Finstad had 922 votes from the towns of Sleepy Eye, Springfield and Mountain Lake compared to 186 for Ettinger. Those voters won't be voting in the 1st District in the general election.

Added to the district will be the eastern counties of Goodhue and Wabasha, which were previously in the 2nd District and lean Republican.

Ettinger noted that another new source of Democratic votes will become available in the fall in places such as Mankato, Winona and St. Peter when college campuses will be back in session. He pledged to campaign hard for the votes of students and staff.

"This was always going to be a double-header, two-stage election, with November likely to have three times the turnout of the August election," Ettinger said in his statement.

Finstad, a former state lawmaker and USDA official in the Trump administration, also issued a statement Wednesday about his goals as the newest member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

"As your representative in Congress, I promise to fight the extreme Biden and Pelosi agenda that is devasting our families," he said. "I will work to slash inflation, get control of the border, restore American energy independence, and put our families first."

The relatively close results Tuesday make it more likely that national parties and special interest groups will invest money and resources in the 1st District leading up to Nov. 8. The National Republican Congressional Committee conveyed optimism Wednesday morning that the result will be the same as the special election.

"Congratulations to Brad Finstad on his resounding victory," said NRCC Chair and Minnesota Congressman Tom Emmer. "Brad will be a great representative for Minnesota and defeat Biden-crony Jeff Ettinger again in November."

The Minnesota secretary of state reported Wednesday morning that, after all 726 precincts had been counted, vote totals were 59,797 for Finstad, 55,053 for Ettinger, 1,534 (1.3%) for Legal Marijuana Now Party candidate Richard Reisdorf, of Mankato, and 865 (.7%) for Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party candidate Haroun McClellan, of Rochester.

Ettinger and Finstad easily won Tuesday's DFL and Republican primary elections to advance to the Nov. 8 general election ballot. Reisdorf, who was unopposed, will also be on the ballot. Brian Abrahamson of Luverne will be the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis candidate on the general election ballot rather than McClellan, who filed only for the special election.