'A pretty remarkable chunk of change'

By Heather J. Carlson, PostBulletin - The federal fundraising numbers are out and candidates in the 1st Congressional District are already hauling in substantial sums of money.

The race is expected to be one of the most-watched contests in the nation. Seven Democrats and two Republicans are vying to replace DFL Rep. Tim Walz. The Mankato Democrat is stepping down to run for governor in 2018. Here are five takeaways from the third quarter financial reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

1. Big money is already pouring into the race

The 2018 election is still 13 months away but a hefty sum of money has already been raised by some of the candidates. Hamline University political science professor David Schultz said he is struck by the fact that three of the DFL candidates raised a total of nearly half a million dollars in the third quarter.

"That's a pretty remarkable chunk of change for the top three to collectively raise," Schultz said.

U.S. Army veteran Dan Feehan, of North Mankato, raised the most money, bringing in more than $253,000. Mankato attorney Dan Sullivan came in second with nearly $125,000 raised, including a $30,000 loan from the candidate. Rochester attorney Rich Wright raised $113,000, including $70,000 he lent his campaign.

Schultz expects candidates will end up having to raise $2 million for the race and that when money from outside groups is factored in, a grand total of $10 million may be spent on this race.

Former state Sen. Vicki Jensen, of Owatonna, came in a distant fourth in fundraising. She raised less than $29,000 in the third quarter. No reports were available for the other candidates.

2. Democrats will fight hard to keep the seat

The hefty fundraising totals point to the concern among Democrats about holding the seat. Republican Donald Trump won the district by 15 percentage points last year. Walz narrowly kept the seat, beating GOP rival Jim Hagedorn by less than one percentage point.

"This is going to be one of those seats that Democrats are, rightly so, worried of losing. And if they have even a remote chance — and I think it's remote — of taking back the House of Representatives, they have to hold this one," Schultz said.

3. Fundraising gives Feehan DFL frontrunner status

While money certainly isn't everything when it comes to politics, it can be a good indicator early on of which candidates are seen as having the best chance of winning, Schultz said. Feehan's campaign made a point of noting that the veteran raised more than any other non-incumbent in their first quarter in the 1st District.

"I think of (fundraising) like horse racing at this point. Unless you want to play the long shots, you put the money on the horse that you think is going to win. And I would think at this point the fact the money is going in his direction has to be suggesting this is the person at least national Democrats are more persuaded by who has got the best chance of winning," Schultz said.

Still, Schultz said for a candidate to be successfully they have to build a strong network of support across the district. The question will be if Feehan can do that after lived outside the state for many years. Feehan returned to Minnesota to run for the seat.

4. Hagedorn's fundraising solidifies frontrunner status in race

Hagedorn raised a total of more than $102,000 in the third quarter. So far, he has raised more than $405,000 since launching his third straight bid for the seat. He also has more than $237,000 in the bank.

Besides money, Hagedorn has built up name recognition in the district and a campaign network because of his previous runs.

"He's got the money, and he's got name recognition. I have to think that overall he's the front runner," Schulz said.

5. Carla Nelson needs to prove she can raise big money

Republican state Sen. Carla Nelson announced after the third quarter deadline that she is running for the seat. In order to be competitive, Schultz said she will need to show she can raise substantial funds.

"She's going to have to raise a ton of money," he said. "Does she have to raise as much as him? I don't think so, but I'm guessing she's going to have to show solid six figures."