Brad Finstad, a former state representative and U.S. Department of Agriculture official, has declared victory in Tuesday's First Congressional District GOP primary after unofficial results showed him with a narrow lead over state Rep. Jeremy Munson.
Finstad said Wednesday morning that the "victory is a victory for our Southern Minnesota values."
"The race in this special election will provide a clear contrast. I promise to fight the extreme Biden and Pelosi agenda that is devastating our families," Finstad said in a statement.
Munson conceded Wednesday morning, congratulating Finstad.
"Unfortunately, last night did not go as we had hoped. It seems God has a different plan for us," Munson said in a statement. "... Conservatives must rally behind Brad to keep this seat in Republican hands."
Unofficial results from the Secretary of State's office Wednesday afternoon showed Finstad leading Munson by more than 400 votes with 100% of precincts reporting.
Voters in southern Minnesota headed to the polls Tuesday to decide which candidates from the DFL and GOP fields would advance to an Aug. 9 special election for the seat. The seat is open because of the February death of Republican Rep. Jim Hagedorn after a battle with kidney cancer.
The winner will serve the remainder of Hagedorn's term, which ends in January.
Even though a packed field of Republicans were vying for the seat, returns on Tuesday showed Finstad and Munson far ahead of the rest of the pack. Munson promised to join the far-right House Freedom Caucus if he won the seat, while Finstad tried to strike a balance between showing support for former President Donald Trump and pledging to try and get work done in Washington.
Jennifer Carnahan, the former state Republican chair and Hagedorn's widow, was a distant third in the GOP field with Matt Benda, an Albert Lea attorney, trailing close behind.
Carnahan was trying to wage a political comeback after she stepped down as state party chair under pressure last August following calls for her resignation due to her close ties to Anton "Tony" Lazzaro, a major GOP donor who was arrested on federal sex-trafficking charges.
Carnahan tried to associate herself with her late husband on the campaign trail, but her message didn't connect with voters in the same way as the campaigns of Munson or Finstad.
"As we fight to advance and defend conservative values, I intend to continue serving as a leader within the Republican Party," Carnahan said in a statement Wednesday. "Through this work, I will keep my husband's legacy of conservative leadership alive and well."
On the DFL side, the AP called the primary race on Tuesday night for former Hormel Foods CEO Jeff Ettinger, who appeared to easily win the party contest. The other candidates included former political consultant Sarah Brakebill-Hacke and Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer who served in President George W. Bush's administration, trailing far behind.
"I'm gratified and honored that the voters put their trust in me," Ettinger said. "I'm really trying to offer an alternative to the typical politician."
The August special election isn't the only First District contest awaiting voters however. On that same day, a primary will be held to pick party nominees for the normal November general election. The winner of the fall contest, which will be held under the new court-drawn lines brought about by the redistricting process, will be elected to a full two-year term to the seat.
The First District has been a swing seat in recent election cycles, but Republicans are favored in both the old and new versions of the district maps this year.
Staff writer Emma Nelson contributed to this report.