Sen. Carla Nelson is running for Congress, becoming the second Republican vying for the open 1st District seat.
Nelson made her announcement during a 10 a.m. press conference at Textile Care Services in Rochester. She stood on a stage with a giant American flag as the backdrop. She told the crowd of more than 100 that, "I will be stepping forward. I am running for Congress."
But Nelson told supporters they would schedule a "rah rah rally" for another day because of the tragic shooting in Las Vegas. She did not deliver her planned speech. Instead, the rally included a prayer for the victims of the shooting.
After her announcement, Nelson declined to answer questions from the press — including whether she would abide by the Republican endorsement.
The Rochester Republican's entry into the race sets up a showdown with Blue Earth Republican Jim Hagedorn for the party's support. Hagedorn is making his third straight bid for the seat after narrowly losing to 1st District DFL Rep. Tim Walz last year.
The open 1st District seat is expected to be one of the most watched races in the country. Walz announced in the spring he would not seek re-election to the seat and would instead run for governor. Walz managed to hold onto the seat last year despite Trump winning the district by more than 15 percentage points. Political experts see the southern Minnesota district as one of the best pickup opportunities for Republicans in the nation.
Meanwhile, Democrats are determined to keep the district blue. Eight candidates have already announced they are running for the seat.
Rep. Nels Pierson, R-Rochester, introduced Nelson to the stage. He confirmed he is not running for Congress and will instead support Nelson.
Nelson has a lengthy political history in Olmsted County. She was elected to the Minnesota Senate in 2010. Prior to that, she served one term in the Minnesota House beginning in 2003. A former teacher, she is the owner of Olmsted Financial Group.
When Nelson ran for re-election last year, she touted herself as being someone willing to work across the aisle to get things done. In a Post Bulletin candidate profile, she said the greatest challenge facing greater Minnesota is aging and a shrinking population.
"The solution is to grow and diversify greater Minnesota's economy. This requires both job retention and new job creation. Infrastructure — roads, bridges, high speed internet, terrific education, affordable reliable energy and a business-friendly tax and regulatory climate will help keep and grow jobs in greater Minnesota," she said.
As chairwoman of the Senate E-12 Finance Committee, she fought hard last legislative session to boost education spending. She also supported an effort to revamp the state's teacher licensure laws and has talked extensively about the need to tackle Minnesota's achievement gap between minority and white students.
Nelson has been known to buck her party on occasion. Last year, she was the only Republican to vote for a $1.5 billion statewide construction borrowing package. At the time, she said she voted for the measure because it included funding for several projects within her district.
"At the end of the day, I am elected to represent my constituents and I'm elected to work for them and that's what I do. So in this case, I just happen to be the only Republican voting for the bill," Nelson said.
If Nelson were to win her bid for the 1st District seat, it would have broader political ramifications. It would require a special election to fill her Senate seat, putting control of the Minnesota Senate up for grabs. Republicans have a razor-thin one seat majority in the Senate.
Asked about Nelson's decision to get into the race, Hagedorn said he believes his campaign is well positioned to win the support of Republicans in the 1st District. He noted he has been endorsed by several key figures — including former 1st District Rep. Gil Gutknecht and 6th District Rep. Tom Emmer. He has rounded up endorsements from local GOP leaders across the district. He has also raised more than $300,000 so far for his campaign — more than any other non-incumbent Republican running for Congress.
"I like to say in farmer terms, we've been plowing a lot of political ground, planting a lot of seed and we're just starting to enjoy the harvest. I'd say that the work we've done and where we've put ourselves has been unifying the Republican party," Hagedorn said.
Hagedorn declined to promise to abide by the party's endorsement process. However, he said he will work hard to win that endorsement.
Hagedorn also emphasized that if elected, he will be a strong supporter of Trump's agenda.
"I think those positions I've taken reflect the views and values of the people of southern Minnesota," he said.