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Pro-gun, pro-life 15-term Dem faces stiff competition for House seat

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.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    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.

  • Kaomi Goetz:

    Congressman Collin Peterson angles his single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza plane above his home in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.

  • Collin Peterson:

    I go out looking to see if there's any ducks around here.

  • Kaomi Goetz:

    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.

  • Collin Peterson:

    Well it's got more Trump stickers than you could…

  • Kaomi Goetz:

    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.

  • Collin Peterson:

    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.

  • Kaomi Goetz:

    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.

  • Collin Peterson:

    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.

  • Kaomi Goetz:

    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.

  • Michelle Fischbach:

    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.

  • Kaomi Goetz:

    Fischbach says she's campaigning to get the economy moving and to strengthen law and order.

  • Michelle Fischbach:

    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.

  • Kaomi Goetz:

    But clearly a main campaign strategy is to link Peterson with the more progressive-leaning members of his party.

  • Michelle Fischbach:

    Collin Peterson is vulnerable and he's vulnerable because of his connection to Nancy Pelosi and the socialist agenda they're pushing.

  • Kaomi Goetz:

    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.

  • Don Loeslie:

    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.

  • Kaomi Goetz:

    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.

  • Don Loeslie:

    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.

  • Kaomi Goetz:

    Fischbach says Peterson is also running negative ads. Her supporters see her election as a chance for new ideas.

  • Peter Balega:

    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.

  • Kaomi Goetz:

    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.

  • Peter Balega:

    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.

  • Kaomi Goetz:

    Though Trump is expected to again win in Minnesota's 7th Congressional District, pundits say the House seat is a toss-up.

  • Collin Peterson:

    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.

  • Michelle Fischbach:

    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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