DFL U.S. Rep. Tim Walz is annoyed by a lack of progress in that other Capitol building, and he returned to Minnesota on Monday to spend some time in this one. Walz, joined by DFL U.S. Reps. Rick Nolan and Keith Ellison, and Department of Transportation (MnDOT) Commissioner Charlie Zelle, appealed for legislative support for Gov. Mark Dayton’s transportation plan and said it would help pay for a badly needed expansion of U.S. Highway 14.
To supporters, Walz’s appearance was a sign that he’s plugged-in to his district, its needs, and the current situation in Minnesota. To his most vocal critic, the press conference in St. Paul was more like a retreat, as Walz admits he cannot obtain the necessary funding through his own work in Congress.
That critic, Jim Hagedorn, had a good deal more to say about Walz, and is planning to keep it up for the next 18 months. Hagedorn announced on Tuesday that he would run against Walz again in 2016, promising to build on his showing in 2014, with 45 percent of the district vote to Walz’s 54 percent.
That margin was fairly comfortable for Walz, especially in light of the year’s poor results for Democrats: Republican candidate Jeff Johnson actually beat Gov. Mark Dayton in the 1st Congressional District, and both of the area’s legislative swing districts were claimed by Republicans. But Hagedorn notes that his performance was actually the best any Republican has managed since Walz first won election in 2006, and thinks he has laid groundwork for a rematch.
“Sometimes you realize that, in a big district like this, you have to keep wearing down the incumbent advantages,” Hagedorn said. “A second run on the ballot makes sense. [DFL U.S. Rep.] Collin Peterson and [GOP U.S. Rep.] John Kline both had to run multiple times to get elected.”
Hagedorn’s announcement was followed one day later with more 1st CD news, which some think might be just as notable. Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, announced that he would not seek to challenge Walz in 2016, ending speculation that Cornish himself had initiated with an off-the-cuff statement prior to session.
Shawn Groth, chair of the 1st Congressional District DFL, thinks Cornish probably would have posed the greatest threat to Walz. Cornish’s outspoken positions on the Second Amendment would have worked to “fire up his [Republican] base,” Groth said, though he doubted it would have taken many votes from Walz, a member of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and a 24-year veteran of the Army National Guard.
“Hagedorn has been in Washington almost all his life,” Groth said, a reference to a career in and around federal government for the son of former U.S. Congressman Tom Hagedorn. “Cornish, he’s been around this area for most of his life. I think it would be hard for Hagedorn to get endorsed against Cornish.”
Hagedorn, for his part, said he was focused on his own campaign, though he described Cornish as a “good guy, with an excellent reputation.” In 2014, Hagedorn initially lost the party endorsement to Aaron Miller, but pushed on to a primary, which Hagedorn won. Miller released a statement of his own on Tuesday, saying he had received encouragement from “activists and donors,” but was still making up his mind about another run.
Walz enjoyed the typical financial advantages of an incumbent, outspending Hagedorn by a factor of six during the 2014 campaign. The Republican blames some of that gap on a lack of support from national GOP donors, who had already decided to back GOP newcomer Stewart Mills in the 8th Congressional District or Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, who ran and lost against 7th CD DFLer Collin Peterson. Though he spent virtually all of his roughly $250,000 in campaign funds, Hagedorn finished 2014 debt-free — “except to me, and I don’t expect to get paid back,” he said — and plans to start wooing the state and country’s biggest conservative donors immediately.
DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin met Hagedorn’s announcement with doubled-edged criticism, calling him a “Washington insider” whose “priority is toeing the Tea Party line.” Groth agreed with the latter assertion, saying Hagedorn is more right-leaning than most of the district, and would be seen as more partisan than Walz, who has generally been perceived as an independent voice.
“We saw in the last two election cycles, our friends on other side tried to tie Walz to [President Barack] Obama,” Groth said. “They tried painting Walz as a liberal. At the end of the day, they were lies, they weren’t true in that regard, and the voters knew it. The voters know Tim Walz.”