Congressman Collin Peterson (DFL) angles his single engine Beechcraft Bonanza plane looking for ducks. It’s a common Friday routine, as he flies himself home from the Minneapolis-St.Paul airport, after catching a commercial flight from Washington, D.C.
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. Four years ago, Trump won the district with 62% 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,” Peterson said after tucking his plane in its hangar. “I didn’t run with Obama, I try to do my own campaign, keep independent, it’s the way I’ve always done it. I’m still pro-life, pro-gun, and people know that,” he said.
His constituents support those values. But he’s faced challenges. And this election, the longtime incumbent is being targeted by national Republicans, while House Democrats are trying to hold on to their majority.
“There’s no question, since Trump got into politics, he’s cut my margin, he’s cut into the people who split their ballot,” he said.
Republican 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.
“When my term ended, I started getting calls: We need a strong candidate to go to Washington, D.C. After a few calls like that, I decided to do that, and want to take their voice to Washington,” she said, from a park near her campaign office in Litchfield. She said she’s campaigning to get the economy moving and to strengthen law and order.
“[Voters] want to see the tax breaks in 2017 made permanent, and the President had the economy moving,” she said.
Clearly, a main campaign strategy has been to link Peterson with more progressive-leaning or liberal members of his party.
“Collin Peterson is vulnerable. He’s vulnerable because of his connection to Nancy Pelosi and the socialist agenda he’s pushing, and he goes to WDC and votes for Nancy Pelosi,” Fischbach said.
News sources show that Peterson has voted with Trump about half of the time, though in the last year, that percentage dipped to 25%. Peterson contends that he votes his district, not his party, which is something wheat and soybean farmer Don Loeslie likes. Loeslie, a former president of national wheat farmer associations, has been driving combines for 74 years. The Republican from Warren says in rural Polk county that everyone is connected to farming. And he says they know Peterson has their backs.
“There’s that old political axiom, 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 and we have the chairman, and we don’t want to have that chairmanship transferred to another state, ” he said.
Another Republican in the sprawling seventh district is voting for Fischbach. He said it’s time for Peterson to step aside.
“I think the Democratic party has changed since Collin Peterson first took office 30 years ago or so. And now he’s got to deal with the far left and try to make them happy. He’s got to work with Nancy Pelosi. That takes away from the Blue Dog maverick independence that he once had,” the Detroit Lakes resident said.
One Greater Minnesota Reporter Kaomi Goetz recently traveled around the state to learn more about pop-up stores selling Trump merchandise to rural residents who plan to support the president in the upcoming November election.
President Donald Trump tested positive for the coronavirus the day after visiting Minnesota, where he met with Republican legislative leaders and three Minnesota members of Congress, who flew with him on Air Force One before Trump appeared in front of thousands. Prior to his diagnosis, Mary Lahammer spoke with local experts about the political change in the Northland.