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In visit to Winona, state GOP chair 'hopeful and optimistic' that White House will stump in southern Minnesota

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Next week, Vice President Mike Pence will make an appearance at a fundraiser in Bloomington, Minn. It’s the third appearance by the administration in the state this summer — a sign that the national party thinks that what happens in Minnesota on Nov. 6 could have national ramifications.

“Minnesota is really at the center of all elections this cycle,” said Jennifer Carnahan, chair of the state Republican party, on a visit to Winona on Wednesday. “What happens here could influence the balance of power in Washington.”

In a rare coincidence, the state has both U.S. Senate seats on the ballot this fall, plus an open governor’s race, four competitive races for Congress and a high-profile battle to become the next attorney general.

One of the four congressional races to watch is right here in the 1st District, where Republican Jim Hagedorn won the nomination for the third straight cycle and will face former Obama administration official Dan Feehan to fill a seat held by Tim Walz, the DFL candidate for governor. It’s considered one of the best opportunities for the GOP to flip a seat in the House as it tries to cling to its majority.

Does that mean we could see President Donald Trump — or another high-profile member of the party — in the 1st District before November?

“We’re certainly hopeful and optimistic that we’ll have national figures come back into Minnesota again before the general election in November,” Carnahan said. “We try to promote and encourage and work on that with our partners out in D.C. We’ll have to see what happens.”

The last presidential appearance in Winona was when Jimmy Carter stopped about 100 feet off the shore of Winona’s levee on the Delta Queen steamer.

Hagedorn lost to Walz by less than 3,000 votes — a margin of less than 1 percent — in the 2016 election, but was significantly outperformed in Winona County, where he lost 57-43. Trump outperformed Hagedorn by 1,500 votes in Winona County, while Walz received almost 3,000 more votes than Hillary Clinton.

An appearance by Trump could energize his base in Winona County and throw more support behind Hagedorn.

“We hope we can get him back (in the state),” Carnahan said. “He’s a force.’

Whether or not one of the party’s heavy hitters makes a local visit, Carnahan said Hagedorn plans to stick to his message that the Democratic party is leaving the people of Minnesota behind.

“He also talks a lot about immigration,” she said. “That’s a core issue for him.”

Hagedorn wants to crack down on illegal immigration, build the border wall with Mexico and defund sanctuary cities and states.

Although there are so many critical races in the state this fall, Carnahan wasn’t concerned the party would be spread too thin.

“I have seen such a high level of energy and enthusiasm from the base of our party all across Minnesota,” she said. “We’ve seen a lot of people that disengage with the Republican Party disengage who have come back in the last year. That’s a theme that’s continuous from north to south to east to west.”

She also pointed to the fact that all of the Republican endorsed candidates won their primaries as a sign that the party is unified from the top town.

“That’s a huge win for the grassroots of our party,” she said. “It shows the endorsement does matter and we have the right structure in place to help get those candidates across the line.”

“What happens here could influence the balance of power in Washington.” Jennifer Carnahan, Minnesota GOP chair

John Casper Jr. is the editor of the Winona Daily News. He can be reached at 507-453-3510 or john.casper@lee.net.

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