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Open-seat primaries drive outside spending in Alabama, Minnesota

Nominees being picked for Shelby, Brooks and Hagedorn seats

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., was endorsed and then unendorsed by former President Donald Trump, who did not pick another candidate for Alabama's open Senate seat.
Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., was endorsed and then unendorsed by former President Donald Trump, who did not pick another candidate for Alabama's open Senate seat. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Republican voters in deep-red Alabama and in an open Minnesota House district will pick nominees Tuesday in primaries that are likely to decide who comes to Capitol Hill.  

A special primary for the remainder of the late Republican Rep. Jim Hagedorn’s term in Minnesota’s 1st District drew a crowded field on both sides of the aisle. The parties’ winners on Tuesday will face off in a special election Aug. 9 for the term that runs through January. That’s the same day as the rest of the primaries in the North Star State, including for the 1st District term that starts in January and runs to 2025. 

On the Republican side, Brad Finstad, a former Agriculture Department appointee during the Trump administration; state Rep. Jeremy Munson; and Jennifer Carnahan, Hagedorn’s widow, have attracted the most attention in this week’s race. Former Hormel Foods CEO Jeffrey Ettinger, who won the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party endorsement for the August primary for the full term, is running in the special primary on Tuesday as well. So is Richard Painter, a former White House ethics lawyer during the George W. Bush administration who ran in a primary against Democratic Sen. Tina Smith in 2018. 

There’s been significant outside spending on the Republican side. Defending Main Street PAC, which is affiliated with the Republican Main Street Caucus, has spent $768,000 supporting Finstad and an additional $148,000 opposing Munson. American Dream Federal Action and Americans for Prosperity Action have also spent a combined $763,000 to support Finstad. The Protect Freedom Political Action Committee, a group affiliated with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has spent $1.3 million supporting Munson. 

Finstad touts endorsements from Minnesota Republican Reps. Michelle Fischbach and Pete Stauber, as well as Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, the top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, which Hagedorn sat on. Munson, a state representative, has endorsements from House Freedom Caucus members Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Jim Jordan of Ohio, as well as Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie. Carnahan doesn’t boast those kinds of endorsements, but she has focused her campaign on building on Hagedorn’s legacy.

The campaign has gotten thorny in its final days. Carnahan, who has sought to shift the narrative away from her resignation last summer as the state GOP party chair, called on Munson to drop out of the race last week because of his ties to Cliff Maloney Jr., a former president of Young Americans for Liberty who was fired last year because of allegations of sexual misconduct. She was also sued by Hagedorn’s family for not reimbursing them for his medical expenses, but said his estate is still going through the probate process.

After Tuesday, it’s not clear if the candidates will coalesce around the victor ahead of the August primary for a full term. The November race is rated Solid Republican by Inside Elections. 

Alabama Senate

In Alabama, GOP voters hold nearly all the power when it comes to electing the state’s new senator to replace retiring GOP Sen. Richard C. Shelby in what Inside Elections rates a Solid Republican race this fall.

Tuesday’s six-candidate Republican primary has drawn nearly $25 million in outside spending aimed at either boosting or attacking the three leading contenders: Katie Britt, a former top aide to Shelby; Rep. Mo Brooks, whom former President Donald Trump endorsed and then unendorsed; and Mike Durant, an Army veteran and business executive who has mostly self-funded his campaign. 

Alabama GOP insiders expect the top two candidates will face off in a June 21 runoff, given that recent credible polling hasn’t shown anyone winning more than 50 percent. Britt had the edge at 37.4 percent in a mid-May McLaughlin & Associates poll, with both Brooks and Durant neck-and-neck at 25 percent and 24 percent, respectively. 

Shelby’s leadership PAC, Defend America PAC, donated to Britt’s campaign and also gave $200,000 to Secure our Freedom Action Fund, a super PAC that disclosed spending almost exactly $200,000 in support of Britt, FEC disclosures show.  

The Club for Growth has spent nearly $4.5 million on ads attacking Britt and supporting Brooks. It’s not entirely clear how to assess the Trump factor in the race, because he hasn’t given the nod to anyone else since rescinding his endorsement and calling Brooks “woke.” Brooks’ campaign pushed back against recent reports of mailers touting his Trump endorsement, telling the Alabama Political Reporter that the “only letters using the endorsement were approved way before anything changed.”

Trump sent out an email blast Monday linking to the story about the mailings with the comment, “Can’t do that Mo!”

The other Republicans on the ballot are businesswoman Karla Dupriest; Lillie Boddie, who has raised no campaign money; and Jake Schafer, who had raised a total of $3,800, according to FEC reports. The Democrats seeking their party’s nomination include Will Boyd, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in 2018; Brandaun Dean, a former mayor of Brighton; and Army veteran Lanny Jackson.

Replacing Brooks

Brooks’ decision to run for Senate created an open House seat in the heavily Republican 5th District, where half a dozen Republicans are vying for the nomination, which will all but determine who’s heading to Congress next year. 

Dale Strong, a volunteer firefighter who chairs the Madison County Commission, has won the fundraising race, hauling in nearly $1.1 million, including some $200,000 in candidate loans, with $250,000 cash on hand as of May 4, according to FEC reports. He’s also the only candidate in the 5th District field to attract any outside spending. House Freedom Action, a super PAC whose contributors include mega-donor Richard Uihlein, invested $280,000 in attacks against Strong in an attempt to boost rival Casey Wardynski, while a smaller Alabama super PAC called Defend Our Values spent $30,000 supporting Strong, FEC records show. 

Neither Trump nor the Club for Growth have endorsed in the race. Wardynski, who served as assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and Reserve affairs and as superintendent of the Huntsville school district, raised more than $500,000 (including $128,000 in candidate loans). Other candidates include John Roberts, who served as executive with the Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce; Paul Sanford, a former state senator; teacher Andy Blalock; and term-limit advocate Harrison Wright.

If no candidate clears 50 percent, the top two will advance to a June 21 runoff.

Two Democrats — business owner Charlie Thompson and former federal worker Kathy Warner-Stanton — are seeking their party’s nomination. Both raised under $100,000 as of May 4.

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