Other’s opinion: Crowded fields for a special primary

Published 6:03 pm Friday, March 18, 2022

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The Free Press, Mankato

Twenty is a nice round number, and an impressive one in the context of candidates for political office.

Now we’ll see if the turnout for the primaries for this year’s special election in Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District can be as impressive.

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The February death of Jim Hagedorn, in his second term as the congressman for the sprawling district, created an unusual situation. The seat, like all in the U.S. House of Representatives, was due for election in November anyway. State law mandates that a special election to fill the seat for the few months left in the year be held as part of the regular primary on Aug. 9. Working backwards from that brings us to a May 24 special primary, and the closing date for filings was Tuesday.

Whoever wins the special election in August will carry an advantage for the regular election in November, a scant three months later, in a somewhat redrawn district. (Le Sueur County’s voters get a say in the special election, but for the November election they will be in the 2nd District, currently held by Democrat Angie Craig; part of Brown County, currently in the 1st District, will likewise be in in the 7th, held by Republican Michelle Fischbach, for the November vote.)

An open congressional seat that has been closely contested in each of the last three cycles has its appeal to the politically ambitious. A primary in a special election is seldom a high-turnout affair, and the sheer number of candidates on both sides of the ballot — 10 Republicans and eight DFLers — raises the genuine possibility of fractured fields and victorious candidates not genuinely representative of their party, much less the broader district. (Two candidates filed under the label of legalized marijuana parties and will not face a primary.)

To be sure, some of the candidates are more plausible than others. At least three do not reside in either version of the 1st District (residency is not required by law). Many have not held elective office on any level, and that’s hardly a disqualifier either; neither had Hagedorn or his predecessor, Gov. Tim Walz. It is also likely that none have the name recognition that Hagedorn built up over years of campaigning.

Primary voters in the old 1st District have less than 11 weeks in which to sort through these fields. Their choices may well echo in southern Minnesota for years to come.