Peterson will seek re-election
MOORHEAD — U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson had a few things to take care of to prepare for his 13th campaign for Congress: pass a pilot’s physical and get his plane in tip-top shape to fly across northwestern Minnesota.
After months of speculation about retirement and an early move by national Republicans to target the 12-term Democrat, Peterson announced Monday he will run for re-election this year. He said he’s eager to hit the campaign trail – and skies – in his single-engine plane and remains convinced he’s the right fit for his district.
“I go to Washington to represent my district, to represent my people,” he said, flanked by supporters and his 94-year-old father in Moorhead’s Center Mall.
Peterson has represented the sprawling 7th Congressional District, covering much of northwestern Minnesota, since he won the seat in 1990. After a few close races, Peterson has been re-elected by huge margins for the last two decades in one of the most conservative-leaning districts in the state.
The Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index, which scores each congressional district based on its party lean, ranked Minnesota’s 7th District at a plus-six for Republicans for 2014 – second only to the seat now held by Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney won the district by a 54 percent to 44 percent margin in 2012.
That year, Peterson beat Republican challenger Lee Byberg by a 25-point margin.
The National Republican Congressional Committee hit Peterson – and other Democrats in conservative-leaning districts – early with attack ads, painting the Democrat as an out-of-touch politician contributing to a dysfunctional Congress.
Come November, Peterson will likely run against Minnesota state Sen. Torrey Westrom, an Elbow Lake Republican recruited by the NRCC. Though several other names have floated around as possible candidates, Westrom is the only Republican thus far to officially enter the race.
“Minnesota wants a new voice that will put their interests ahead of Barack Obama’s reckless agenda,” NRCC spokesman Tyler Houlton said in a statement. “Collin Peterson may not be retiring on his own terms, but we have every intention of forcing him into retirement in November.”
Peterson scolded the NRCC for fueling drama about his future, and said he doesn’t think their move to tie him to President Barack Obama will fly in his district.
“They can waste their money, but I don’t think it’s going to work,” he said.
Peterson is one of the few remaining so-called Blue Dogs – a group of Democrats that identify themselves as moderates – and a strong voice on agricultural issues in the Republican-controlled House. He’s the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee.
Peterson said he’s feeling fresh from a much-needed break after a grueling, years-long battle to pass a new farm bill, which was signed into law last month. He needed to “heal up.”
“It was almost a miracle that we got this thing done,” he said.
Peterson said he’s running again in part because he wants to help implement the bill.
He started the year with a big fundraising advantage over Westrom. Peterson ended 2013 with about $358,000 on hand – more than quadruple Westrom’s $84,000 on hand, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.
In a statement Monday, Westrom said dysfunction in Congress is “threatening the rural values that me and my neighbors across Minnesota’s Congressional District 7 hold dear.”
“Now that my opponent has decided to seek re-election, after decades in Washington, I eagerly look forward to the upcoming, spirited debate about the future direction of this country,” Westrom said.
Peterson said he makes his campaign decisions in two-year intervals, and is only looking ahead to the November election. But if he wins, he hinted he may not try for a 14th term.
“This might be my last time,” he said. “I don’t want to be 90 years old in Congress.”