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When former President Donald Trump came to Minnesota last month, Republicans U.S. Reps. Tom Emmer, Pete Stauber and Michelle Fischbach all stumped for him from the stage.

Trump's visit kicked off the Minnesota Republican Party's push to flip the state for him. But missing from the stage — and any mention by the former president — was the delegation's fourth House Republican, Rep. Brad Finstad.

"You're probably the double-digit person who has called me with that same question," Phillip Parrish, a Republican activist in the southern Minnesota First District, said when asked about Finstad's absence.

Parrish said the congressman told him he could not make it to the Trump dinner because he was at a subcommittee meeting, but Finstad's campaign declined to say why he did not attend.

When Trump was convicted in May of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in New York, Emmer, Stauber and Fischbach quickly released detailed statements on social media sharply condemning the verdict. But Finstad did not react until several hours after Parrish called him out on X, threatening a primary challenge if the congressman did not immediately condemn the Trump verdict.

"Justice was not done today!" Finstad said in a response that Parrish called "a politically safe tweet." But it was enough to stop the Republican activist from running against Finstad.

Finstad's campaign said the Minnesota congressman fully supports Trump. The former president endorsed Finstad in April, and the congressman and his three fellow Minnesota Republicans in the House endorsed Trump in early January.

"The congressman served in the Trump administration; the congressman was an early endorser of President Trump. The congressman has been endorsed by President Trump; the congressman has never shied away from supporting President Trump," campaign spokesman David FitzSimmons said in an interview.

Finstad's campaign would not comment on Parrish's post and said the congressman reacted to the Trump verdict on his own and was not influenced to do so.

Finstad's absence from the Trump speech on May 17 could be part of a larger political strategy for an incumbent who does not have to worry about a primary and is trying to appease different factions of voters in his district, said Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota.

"Finstad probably is a bit more moderate than the party [and] is trying to avoid being sucked into the Donald Trump wing of the party," Jacobs said. "But when he resists that, he faces a backlash from the Trump wing."

Finstad represents a district held by Democrat Tim Walz for six terms until he became governor in 2019. The district has since swung to Republicans.

The late Republican Rep. Jim Hagedorn succeeded Walz after defeating Democrat Dan Feehan by just over 1,300 votes in the 2018 election. Two years later, he won a rematch with Feehan by more than 3 points.

The special election to replace Hagedorn after his death in 2022 drew a crowded field of Republicans. Many of them, including Finstad, jockeyed for Trump's support. But the former president made no endorsements in the race.

"During the special election, basically every single mailer and literature piece that went out ... Finstad was trying to connect himself to Trump," said Sara Bertschinger, a First District delegate to the state GOP convention. That's why Bertschinger and other Republicans in the district she spoke with were surprised Finstad was not at the Trump dinner in St. Paul.

"Numerous people have mentioned, wondering what's going on with Finstad, in this case, with Trump," Bertschinger said. "It's getting noticed."

When Finstad won the primary for Hagedorn's seat, his closest rival was former GOP state Rep. Jeremy Munson. Despite the support of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, Munson lost to Finstad by less than 1 point.

Finstad went on to defeat Democrat Jeff Ettinger in the special election and by more than 11 points in their rematch race for a full term in 2022, the widest margin of victory for a candidate in the district since 2012.

This year, Finstad has two lesser-known Republican opponents in the primary and is likely to cruise to victory. He would then face lawyer and former Hennepin County elections chief Rachel Bohman in November.

Finstad's conservative voting record has impressed some First District Republicans like Bertschinger. He's voted against the U.S. sending $60 billion in aid to Ukraine, funding that Trump has opposed. He has voted with the Biden administration just 16.7% of the time, according to data from polling and data news site FiveThirtyEight. He also often praises Trump in fundraising emails, including after the former president's visit in May.

"All these reasons are pointing to Finstad trying to find the right balance between holding the Republican Party based on a conservative voting record and bowing and scraping in front of Donald Trump, which might alienate some of his supporters, might give cause to a Democratic opponent that want to paint him in the next election as a clone of Donald Trump," Jacobs said.

Though First District voters favored for Trump in 2016 and 2020, Rochester — its largest city and the third biggest in Minnesota — voted for Joe Biden in 2020 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. Mankato and Austin have also leaned Democratic.

Republicans who know Finstad say the congressman is a workhorse and a mainstream Republican who fits the district.

"For the people who want show horses like [Florida GOP congressman] Matt Gaetz, who's parading around on Fox News everyday, Brad Finstad's not going be your guy," said Marty Seifert, former state House Republican minority leader.

"If you want a workhorse, who's a mainstream conservative, who's going to do a good job for the district, then you've found the right guy, and frankly, the First District doesn't want a clown show. We're a big tent party, but they don't want it to be a circus tent."

Newsroom developer Tom Nehil contributed to this report.