In key 1st congressional district, candidates battle as President Trump looms large

The two candidates vying for a key congressional seat in southern Minnesota turned up the rhetoric during a debate Friday, accusing each other of being beholden to controversial political figures.

The campaign featured Republican Jim Hagedorn and DFL candidate Dan Feehan, who agreed on little during the hour-long debate at Minnesota Public Radio. The seat is open because DFL U.S. Rep. Tim Walz decided to run for governor. Observers view the race as a toss-up.

Both men have worked in Washington; Hagedorn as a GOP congressional aide and Feehan as an appointee of President Barack Obama in the Department of Defense. Both men veered from debating the issues to attacks over their personal biographies.

“Dan, you’re not an independent voice. You’re an appointee of Barack Obama,” Hagedorn said. “You were sent out here by the resistance, [House Democratic leader Nancy] Pelosi and company to try to take power in this district.”

A Hagedorn win would be validation for President Donald Trump, who won the district by 15 points in 2016 and campaigned in Rochester last week.

Feehan hammered Hagedorn for being closely aligned with the president on taxes, a border wall, and health care.

“There are some openings in the Trump administration. I think there would be a great opportunity to continue your work there,” Feehan told Hagedorn.

Hagedorn ran for the seat in 2014 in 2016, losing to Walz both times. Republicans see it as an opportunity to pick up a seat in the U.S. House in what otherwise is a challenging year for the party.

The two men sparred over national security, with Hagedorn endorsing a border wall. Feehan, an Army veteran, said building a wall ignores bigger threats, including cybersecurity and bio-terrorism.

“There’s no one better to represent southern Minnesota in that interest than someone who spend two tours in Iraq serving this country,” Feehan said.

Hagedorn said he honored Feehan’s military service, but questioned his positions on national security.

“It doesn’t seem like whatever you learned in the military has translated into informed positions on this particular issue that reflect what people in southern Minnesota want,” Hagedorn said.

Feehan said he supported a guest-worker program and legal status for DACA recipients, young people who came to the country illegally as children. Hagedorn said he supported a temporary guest-worker program and didn’t comment on DACA during the debate.

Feehan said he would’ve voted against the tax cuts that Republicans passed into law late last year, while Hagedorn supported them.

Feehan said the U.S. should allow anyone to buy into Medicare as a way to cut medical costs. That set off a spirited debate over the impact lower Medicare reimbursement rates would have on the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

“If you you do this, it’s going to destroy the progress and growth of Rochester, Minnesota and much of southern Minnesota,” Hagedorn said.

Feehan responded that the Mayo Clinic should be part of the conversation.

“It helps the Mayo Clinic if the Mayo Clinic is involved in a part of it in the first place,” he said.