By Trey Mewes, Mankato Free Press - MANKATO — To hear Republican Jim Hagedorn and Democrat Dan Feehan tell it, Tuesday's primary might as well not have happened.
Both candidates say they've been running general election-style campaigns since they first announced their intention to replace U.S. Rep. Tim Walz in Minnesota's 1st Congressional District. Both candidates were also endorsed by their respective parties and both handily fended off challenges from other candidates.
And now the primary is over, Hagedorn and Feehan are busy working the district to meet people and draw clear differences in their philosophies.
"Are we going to keep moving in the direction we're in, or are we going to go back to the Obama days or even worse?" Hagedorn said.
Hagdorn, of Blue Earth, is a former Treasury Department official who came the closest anyone has to beating Walz in an election in 2016, when Walz barely won with about 2,500 more votes. He has advocated for President Donald Trump's agenda in Washington, D.C., and has sometimes even pushed for policy before Trump has.
Case in point: Hagedorn called for a pause in the U.S.'s refugee resettlement program before Trump did in 2015.
Yet Hagedorn faces a politically tough opponent in Feehan. The former military official served two tours in Iraq in the Army, became a captain in the Illinois National Guard and was an acting assistant secretary of defense under former President Barack Obama.
And Feehan advocates for a more positive political philosophy, which he believes will serve southern Minnesotans better than partisan fighting.
"I want us to move together as a community here," Feehan said.
The two candidates share a few similarities. Both were raised in southern Minnesota before striking out on their own and both have returned in recent years to run for political office.
Yet their political styles will likely clash on the campaign trail.
Hagedorn has been known to be an aggressive, fiery candidate who's not afraid to criticize Democrats. Feehan has purposefully tried to focus on policy without attacking the other side, with the exception of Trump and his recent tariffs on goods.
"What I strive for in that conversation and continue to stand for is to try and solve problems," Feehan said.
Hagedorn was the outside candidate against Olmsted County GOP official Aaron Miller during the 2014 GOP primary. Miller was the endorsed candidate but Hagedorn thought Miller hadn't done enough to campaign against Walz in that race. Hagedorn would eventually win the GOP primary but lose the election against Walz.
Feehan moved to North Mankato last year and announced his candidacy in July of 2017. Yet he has been criticized as a carpetbagger — his primary opponents and other Republicans have labeled him "D.C. Dan" — for running for office so soon after moving back to southern Minnesota.
Still, Feehan's message drew enough support to earn him the DFL nomination in April on the first ballot. He won Tuesday's primary with more than 80 percent of the DFL vote, and he garnered about as many votes as Hagedorn and his main opponent in the GOP primary, state Sen. Carla Nelson, combined.
The candidates will have to work to get their message heard in a politically purple district that Democrats and Republicans both see as a toss-up race this year.
Hagedorn has the advantage over Feehan when it comes to stops across the district. The Republican has traveled across southern Minnesota since the 2016 election to promote his campaign. Yet Feehan has consistently beaten Hagedorn in fundraising — Feehan has raised about $1 million total compared to Hagedorn's $800,000.
Feehan's campaign has challenged Hagedorn to three debates over the next few months. Feehan has also invited Hagedorn to participate in the Feehan campaign's Service Saturdays initiative, where Feehan and his team volunteer to work on local projects around southern Minnesota.
Hagedorn has declined to join Feehan on his service projects, but the GOP-endorsed candidate wants to have much more than three debates this fall.
"It's a big district, 21 counties, and the voters in all the regions deserve the opportunity to see us in person," Hagedorn said. "I would think more in the line of eight or 10 debates overall would be where we should go."