Conservative PACs aim to flip pair of Minnesota seats from blue to red

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Pete Stauber (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Two U.S. House of Representatives seats in Minnesota, formerly occupied by Democrats, are vacant and up for grabs, sparking a spending battle between liberal and conservative groups.

Most of Minnesota’s 2018 congressional races lean Democratic, but the 1st and 8th Congressional Districts are each rated as a “toss up” by Cook Political Report, making them two of the only pick-up opportunities for the GOP this cycle.

In most of the ad buys done so far in both races, the Democratic candidate is the focus, for better or worse.

Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District

Despite going to President Donald Trump by nearly 15 points in 2016, this rural, southern Minnesota district has been occupied by a Democrat for 12 years.

With Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) leaving his seat to run for Minnesota Governor, Republican nominee Jim Hagedorn — a former U.S. Treasury employee and conservative blogger — is taking on Iraq War veteran and former Pentagon official Dan Feehan, setting his sights on a seat that eluded him in 2016 and 2014.

Aiding Hagedorn is the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which has spent more than $1.8 million in opposition of Feehan on a series of attack ads.

Its most recent ad attempts to connect Feehan with George Soros and notes his support for former NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protests.

A September advertisement from NRCC portrays Feehan, a Bronze Star recipient, as anti-military. The advertisement was criticized by Minnesota media outlets, including Minneapolis news station KARE 11, for taking Feehan’s comments out of context.

Liberal dark money group VoteVets responded with an ad of its own in late September, calling Hagedorn “not fit to serve in Congress.”

Another ad from NRCC attempts to tie Feehan to Hillary Clinton, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Also making the Pelosi connection — Feehan hasn’t accepted PAC money from Pelosi — is a new ad from the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), released Wednesday.

All in all, Feehan is boosted by $2.4 million in support from outside groups. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has spent more than $1.6 million in support of Feehan, while the non-partisan With Honor Fund SuperPAC has spent $252,897 in support of Feehan, primarily through radio advertisements.

Feehan’s campaign has released its own attack ads against Hagedorn, labeling him a “D.C. Bureaucrat.”

As of the most recent FEC reports, Feehan outraised his opponent, collecting $1.1 million to Hagedorn’s $822,192. Continuing a trend with Democratic candidates, 75 percent of contributions to Feehan come from out of state, compared to nearly 19 percent for Hagedorn.

Hagedorn lost to Walz by less than 3,000 votes in 2016, despite being severely outraised $1.55 million to $354,204. He is a strong Trump supporter and received the President’s endorsement during his “Make America Great Again” rally in Rochester last week.

Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District

Like in southern Minnesota, the state’s northwest congressional district went heavily to Trump in 2016, by a margin of 16 points. However, outgoing Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) won three straight elections in 2012, 2014 and 2016.

Democratic candidate Joe Radinovich, a 32-year-old former state representative, and Republican Pete Stauber, a county commissioner and former minor league hockey player, are unproven candidates, and despite the “toss up” rating, outside groups have spent less on the race compared to this time last cycle.

MN-08 Outside Spending (Oct. 2016 vs Oct. 2018)

Still, CLF has kept the pressure on the Democratic candidate. The conservative group has spent more than $3.1 million in opposition of Radinovich, including an attack ad that hits Radinovich for several traffic violations and other petty misdemeanor charges he faced from 2007 to 2017.

The DCCC has spent $905,356 supporting Radinovich and $359,867 in opposition of Stauber.

As of the most recent filings, Radinovich had failed to raise significant funds — $322,158 compared to Stauber’s $948,943 — but he recently reported raising a massive $1.25 million in the third quarter.

A September poll from the New York Times gave Radinovich a 1-point edge, 44 to 43, over his opponent.

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