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Polarization, Trump-ism and an unlikely Democratic candidate: A conversation with Jeff Ettinger

On August 9, there will be a special election for the Minnesota 1st Congressional District will hold a special election following the death of the previous incumbent, Republican Jim Hagedorn, who died on February 18. The winner of this special election will fill the remaining months of Hagedorn’s term. The regularly-scheduled election for the following term will take place this November, with the primary and the special election occurring simultaneously. Both the Republican and the Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidates are running for the regular election in addition to the special election.

Jeff Ettinger is, in his own words, “not necessarily the dream candidate for the typical Democratic activist.” He is, however, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate for the 1st Congressional District of Minnesota.

Brad Finstad’s website describes him as “a conservative fighter running for Congress to fire Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.” According to his platform, his top values are being “pro-Trump,” “pro-gun,” “pro-life,” “pro-family” and “pro-freedom.” 

The former CEO of Hormel Foods, Ettinger decided to run for election when Dan Feehan, the DFL nominee from 2018 and 2020, announced he would not be running a third time. “It’s a balanced district, and … it deserves to be represented in that manner,” said Ettinger. Ettinger is a self described moderate, and supports bipartisanship on issues such as jobs but also recognizes that compromise is not always possible.

“There’s going to be a group that it’s just not gonna work … they just don’t come at it with the same outlook I have at all.” Ettinger recognized,  “but … I know a number of moderate Republican people, voters who are open to reasonable solutions, and I want to try to improve our country. And so I think that that’s where I’ll try to emphasize and focus my time.” 

With the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, abortion has become a significant issue for voters, particularly for those who would like Congress to pass federal abortion laws. In the Minnesota 1st Congressional District, the partisan divide on this issue is displayed by the opposing views of both candidates.

“We must protect human life no matter how small. Brad is proud to defend the sanctity of life and he will fight to protect all unborn human beings,” reads the text under the “Pro-Life” section of “Brad’s Values.” His statement on the overturning of Roe v. Wade expands on his position, stating that he believes the landmark case was incorrectly decided in 1973 and thus the Supreme Court was right in overruling it. He also promises that if elected to Congress he “will work to protect life and fight for the unborn.”

Ettinger, on the other hand, supports passing a law in Congress codifying abortion access, and believes that the right to abortion in Minnesota could be threatened depending on the results of the state legislature and gubernatorial elections. The right to abortion is protected by the state constitution, and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison recently declined to appeal a decision by a district court judge which loosened state restrictions on abortion. Ettinger cited his experience as a lawyer in his explanation of why Roe v. Wade should not have been overturned. However, when asked about the idea of expanding the Supreme Court which many Democrats support, Ettinger said he “just [doesn’t] see how that’s really a viable solution.” He also mentioned that the majority of Minnesotans believe abortion “should be safe, legal and with some restrictions.” This key difference in opinion may prove important on August 9.

The differences among the candidates extends far beyond abortion access. Finstad and Ettinger have antithetical views on former President Donald Trump and the January 6 riot as well. Brad Finstad was appointed to his position as Minnesota State Director for USDA Rural Development by Trump, and while he does not have an explicit statement on January 6, his campaign website clearly states his support for Trump. Ettinger displays his dislike of Trump prominently in his campaign. His website explains that as part of his motivation to run for office: he thinks of  Trump and the January 6 mob as threats to democracy. Ettinger criticized previous incumbent Hagedorn, first describing him as “quite dismissive to anybody who wasn’t in his very conservative realm,” a concern which he said many constituents echoed during his campaign, and then denouncing Hagedorn’s response to the 2020 election and January 6.

“On January 6th…you watched our nation’s capital being stormed by rioters and how awful that was,” Ettinger said. “I really am not so sure that it wasn’t even worse than later that night, you know, even after 60 court challenges and all the other states ratifying their results that our own Congressman Hagedorn couldn’t bring himself to certify the election results and to me that was just very embarrassing, honestly for southern Minnesota.”

Ettinger described the district as “a purple seat,” with two of the last four Congressional Representatives being Democrats, including now-Governor Tim Walz. FiveThirtyEight predicts a challenging election for him, though, with 98 out of 100 projections resulting in Republican victory with those projected results ranging from just under a 4% margin to over a 40% margin. “​​Finstad is very likely to win Minnesota’s 1st District,” reads the headline across the polling site’s summary of the district.  

Republican candidate Brad Finstad did not respond to interview requests.

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About the Contributor
Becky Reinhold
Becky Reinhold, Editor in Chief
I'm a junior Philosophy major, and I can usually be found in the basement of Anderson or wandering around Northfield. I like thunderstorms and writing articles around 2am. Becky was previously Managing Editor, Viewpoint Editor, and Design Editor.

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    Evan LiebermanAug 4, 2022 at 1:21 pm

    So cool! Very exciting to see the Carletonian cover MN politics 🙂