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Farmer and ex-legislator Finstad declared winner of Hagedorn seat

One-time congressional aide worked at USDA in Trump administration

Republican Brad Finstad won the special election Tuesday in Minnsota's 1st District to serve the remainder of the late Rep. Jim Hagedorn's term.
Republican Brad Finstad won the special election Tuesday in Minnsota's 1st District to serve the remainder of the late Rep. Jim Hagedorn's term. (Photo courtesy of Finstad for Congress)

Former state legislator and Trump administration agriculture official Brad Finstad won a special election Tuesday in Minnesota’s 1st District to serve the remainder of the late Republican Rep. Jim Hagedorn’s term. 

Finstad, a Republican, had 51 percent to Democrat Jeff Ettinger’s 47 percent with an estimated 99 percent of the vote counted at 9:25 a.m. Wednesday when The Associated Press called the race.

On the same ballot, Finstad also won the GOP primary to run in November for a full term in the seat, defeating state Rep. Jeremy Munson, 76 percent to 24 percent. He will again face Ettinger, a former Hormel Foods executive, who won a three-candidate Democratic primary with 92 percent of the vote.

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Hagedorn, a two-term Republican, died from kidney cancer in February. 

Finstad described the decision to make his first bid for Congress as “the perfect storm and timeline” that allowed him to consider how he could represent the part of the state where he was born and raised.

In May he won a crowded Republican primary, and his victory was hailed by GOP groups, including American Dream Federal Action, that spent a combined $1.5 million to help him beat Munson, who had support from members of the House Freedom Caucus. Jennifer Carnahan, Hagedorn’s widow, finished third in that special primary.

Finstad started his political career with a two-year stint as a district aide for then-Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn. He left that job to run for and win a seat in the state House of Representatives in 2002.

He spent three terms in the state House, rising to assistant minority leader before he left to work at the Center for Rural Policy and Development, a small policy research organization based in Minnesota. He said his time there was critical in developing a wider approach to legislating and taught him to tailor policy solutions to specific problems.

“As a farmer, duct tape is probably the easiest way to fix things, but it doesn’t fix it. It just holds it together,” he said. “And I think that’s the same way I look at these things — a one-size approach doesn’t fit.”

Finstad was appointed state director of USDA Rural Development in 2017 by President Donald Trump, a position he held for a little over three years. He left in 2021 and went to serve as interim executive director for the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association.

Finstad cited his family as a driving force behind his career in politics.

“We have to make sure and prevent our younger generations [from] thinking that the answer is always a big government coming in,” he said. “There’s so much more value in life when you’re in the trenches, trying to fix things.”

A fourth-generation resident of New Ulm, Minn., Finstad earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture education from the University of Minnesota and still works his family farm, which produces corn and soybeans, with his brother and their wives.

Finstad acknowledged the workload of running in two primaries and two general elections in a span of six months, but said the previous incumbent inspired him. 

Jim Hagedorn passing away was tough on a lot of folks, and a lot of us just kind of saw what he did and his work ethic,” he said. “We all said, ‘You know, we owe it to Jim’s legacy to keep plugging away here.’ And so it was a quick decision, and it’s been a whirlwind. Four elections in six months is — there’s no real handbook for how to do that.”

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