Second time around for 7th District candidates Hughes and Peterson
WILLMAR, Minn. — Two years ago Dave Hughes — a Republican with very little name recognition and less than $20,000 in campaign money — came surprisingly close to defeating longtime U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson in the sprawling 7th Congressional District.
This year — with more money and campaign moxie — Hughes said he's even more confident he'll win. He said if President Trump would visit the district to rally for him, he would win by "double digits" over Peterson.
Peterson acknowledged he didn't campaign like he should have two years ago in the midst of the "Trump phenomenon" and he will "not take anything for granted" this time around. But in an interview in September, Peterson confided that his internal polling looked very good.
In 2016 Trump won the 7th District by 30 points over Hillary Clinton.
"I do represent the most Republican district in the country held by a Democrat," said Peterson, who has been in Congress for 28 years.
Peterson said he represents the district by working across both sides of the political aisle. He takes pride in having the highest bipartisan legislation score in 2017.
Hughes quickly dismissed Peterson's claims of bipartisanship, saying Peterson only votes with Republicans when it's assured a bill will pass or fail with or without his vote.
"It's all a bunch of baloney, this whole maverick, voting against his own party stuff," Hughes said. "He's never been the hero once in 28 years."
In the 7th District where agriculture is king, Peterson said his bipartisan nature — and longevity in Congress that has earned him a key role in negotiating a new farm bill — has benefited farmers in the district and across the country.
After he retires, or is defeated, Peterson said it will be a long time, "if ever," that the 7th District will have someone with as much influence as he has representing regional agricultural interests in Congress.
Hughes said agriculture is important to the economy and culture in the 7th District, but it's not what district voters talk to him about.
Securing the borders, immigration reform and refugee settlement programs are the top issues he hears from voters, Hughes said.
Hughes said he supports building a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border and doesn't care who pays for it. "The American people can pay for the wall as far as I'm concerned," he said. "I just want the wall built."
Hughes said he likes everything about Trump and doesn't pay attention to his tweets or comments about world leaders because it has nothing to do with his race in the 7th District.
"It's not a blind dedication. And it's not an ignorant dedication," Hughes said. "I'm just trying to keep my eye on the ball."
Peterson said he gets along just fine with Trump and votes to support — or oppose — Trump's proposals based on if it's constitutional and good for the 7th District.
"I disagree with people that say you should go to Washington to support this president or that president," Peterson said. "I'm there to represent my people."
City: Detroit Lakes
Occupation: Member of Congress
Family: Three children and six grandchildren
Occupation: Lead flight instructor and active drone pilot with General Atomics, a contractor to U.S. Customs & Border Protection
Family: Wife, Amanda, and seven children