Local party officials line up early to back Hagedorn

By Heather J. Carlson, Post Bulletin - Republican Jim Hagedorn is touting endorsements from local GOP leaders in his bid for the 1st District seat as other Republicans weigh whether to jump into the race.

Hagedorn released a list of 15 local party leaders backing his campaign. Supporters include Fillmore County Chairman Gary Steuart, Houston County Chairman Jason Reiland, Olmsted County Deputy Chairman Greg Gallas, and Winona County Chairman James Doerr.

Gallas said Hagedorn called and asked him for his endorsement. He emphasized that his endorsement signals only his personal support and does not represent the Republican Party of Olmsted County.

"I think Jim's the perfect kind of vote that we need in Washington, and we have no other candidates. No one else has come out of the woodwork," he said.

But at least two other local Republicans are still considering running. On Thursday, Rochester Sen. Carla Nelson confirmed that she is "seriously considering" running for the open seat. Stewartville Rep. Nels Pierson is also weighing a bid.

Potential to alienate delegates?

Absent from Hagedorn's endorsement list was Olmsted County Republican Party Chairman Aaron Miller. He said Hagedorn's campaign never asked for his endorsement. The two do have a complicated political history. In 2014, Miller won the party's endorsement for the 1st District race but lost in the primary to Hagedorn.

But Miller said that's not the reason behind him staying out of the race. He said that in recent history, Republican Party of Olmsted County leaders have refrained from endorsing candidates before the convention. He said he has been asked to endorse candidates running for governor, but he's staying out of it because he thinks it's a bad idea for party leaders to announce support for certain candidates.

"If we have party officials heavily involving themselves in a campaign prior to endorsement, I think it serves as a potential to alienate potential delegates," Miller said. "We are a grassroots organization, and I am very much at the will of the delegates."

Hagedorn is making his fourth bid for the 1st District seat after narrowly losing to DFL Congressman Tim Walz last year. Walz announced earlier this year he would not seek re-election to his seat. He is instead running for governor in 2018. While Hagedorn is still the lone Republican in the race, seven Democrats have already announced they are running for the seat.

Local officials allowed to endorse

Republican Party of Minnesota Executive Director Matthew Pagano said the party's constitution and bylaws prohibit state party leaders from endorsing candidates ahead of the convention.

However, nothing in the documents prohibits local party leaders from endorsing — unless there is language in a local party constitution specifically banning it. The Republican Party of Olmsted County's constitution prohibits party officers from acting as a campaign manager for candidates prior to party endorsement but does not restrict officials from personally endorsing candidates.

The Minnesota DFL's constitution and bylaws allow local party chairs and vice chairs to come out in support of candidates above their level. So, for instance, the Senate District 26 DFL chairwoman could endorse a 1st Congressional District candidate but not any candidates running for the Senate District 26 seat.

Steuart, who leads the Fillmore County Republicans, said he has long supported Hagedorn. But he said if other Republicans decide to run, he will make sure they have full access to Fillmore County Republicans like Hagedorn does.

"As chairman of Fillmore County, I don't try to tell the delegates who to support. They make their own decisions. Jim Hagedorn has a lot of support in Southeast Minnesota," Steuart said.

Reiland, chairman of the Houston County Republican Party, said he is trying to walk a fine line. While Hagedorn hasn't been endorsed by the party yet, he personally backs the Blue Earth Republican.

"I stand behind Jim Hagedorn. He knows that, and so does my party," he said.

Hagedorn not trying to discourage other candidates

Hagedorn said he is humbled by the support he has received from party leaders across the district. He said he has been working hard to build support across the district's 21 counties, having attended upwards of 65 local GOP meetings and conventions. So far he has also raised $300,000 — more than any non-incumbent Republican House candidate in the country, according to a recent article in The Hill.

"I think people realize how much work we've put in across the district to get our name out there and the amount of money we've raised," he said.

Is his decision to release a list of supporters a way of discouraging other candidates from getting into the race? Hagedorn says no.

"I will never try to discourage anyone from running for office because it is something they need to do for themselves and for whatever their beliefs are," he said. "Whatever happens, my job is to make sure our campaign is as strong as possible."