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Kaomi Lee, Twin Cities PBS
Kaomi Lee, Twin Cities PBS
Democratic Congressman Collin Peterson has represented Minnesota's rural and conservative 7th Congressional District for 30 years. Now, he’s facing stiff competition from Michelle Fischbach, the state’s Lieutenant Governor, in November’s upcoming election. Special Correspondent Kaomi Goetz from Twin Cities PBS reports on how the two campaigns are battling it out.
Continuing our Roads to Election 2020 series: We turn now to the state of Minnesota where a closely watched congressional race is heating up in a district that has been represented for 15 terms by a Democrat but voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in 2016.
Twin Cities PBS reporter Kaomi Goetz has the story.
Congressman Collin Peterson angles his single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza plane above his home in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.
I go out looking to see if there's any ducks around here.
Those pilot skills come in handy. The 15-term House Democrat and chair of the Ag Committee has one of the largest and most rural districts in the country.
It's also solidly red.
Well it's got more Trump stickers than you could…
Four years ago, Trump won the district with 62 percent of the vote. Peterson won too. But it was no fluke. There's a reason this Hubert Humphrey mentee and conservative has stayed in office here for nearly 30 years. And he's the only current House Democrat who voted against both articles to impeach President Trump.
I don't run with anybody. I mean, I didn't run with Obama. I try to do my own campaigns, keep independent. It's the way I've always done it. I'm still pro-life, still pro-gun, and people know that.
Values, his rural constituents support. But he's faced challenges. And this election, the longtime incumbent is being targeted by national Republicans. House Democrats are trying to hold on to their majority.
There's no question, since Trump got into politics, running for president, he has cut my margin, he's cut into the people who split their ballot.
Challenger Michelle Fischbach has state name recognition. Most recently she served as the first female president of the Minnesota Senate, and as the state's Lieutenant Governor.
After my term of Lieutenant Governor ended, I was at home and I started getting calls from folks around the 7th district asking me to run for the seat and saying, we need strong candidate against Collin Peterson who will be a conservative voice for us in Washington D.C.
Fischbach says she's campaigning to get the economy moving and to strengthen law and order.
They want to see those tax breaks that were put into place in 2017 made permanent, and even expand on those, because we did have shutdowns in Minnesota and the President had the economy moving.
But clearly a main campaign strategy is to link Peterson with the more progressive-leaning members of his party.
Collin Peterson is vulnerable and he's vulnerable because of his connection to Nancy Pelosi and the socialist agenda they're pushing.
Online news site Five-Thirty-Eight shows that Peterson has voted with Trump about half of the time, though in the last year that percentage dipped to 25 percent.
Wheat and soybean farmer Don Loeslie has been driving combines for 74 years. The Republican from Warren says he's sticking by Peterson. Out here, he says everyone is connected to farming. And he says they know Peterson has their backs.
There's that old political axiom that uh, you're either at the table or you're on the menu. And nothing can happen in any committee unless it goes it through the chairman. We have the chairman and we don't want to have that chairmanship transferred to another state.
Loeslie, a past president of the National Wheat Grower's Association, says he trusts the congressman to deliver from smart trade to farm bills. And he's turned off by the negative political ads attacking Peterson.
Pelosi and Omar are not in this district and will never be in this district and there's nothing we can do about them, and that seems to be who they're running against.
Fischbach says Peterson is also running negative ads. Her supporters see her election as a chance for new ideas.
I think the Democrat party has changed from when Collin Peterson first took office 30 years ago or so. And now he's got to deal with keeping this group on the far-left extreme, the socialist left, he's got to deal with them.
Peter Balega lives in Peterson's hometown and has been active with the local Republican party. He says the Congressman's influence on ag issues is not a given.
His chairmanship depends on holding the House. So we're kind of assuming that that's gonna happen. And frankly, I think that if Michelle is elected I think she'll end up on the ag committee too. And that will be a function of how hard she works.
Though Trump is expected to again win in Minnesota's 7th Congressional District, pundits say the House seat is a toss-up.
I don't need a job, you know, I've done this for a lot of years. I think I'm good at it, and I think I've done a good job for my district. And the farmers obviously, because I'm chairman of the committee, they want me to continue.
It is very important for me to go to Washington and fight for the people of the 7th district. We need to take the 7th district into the next 30 years and make sure that rural Minnesota is growing.
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