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7th Congressional District race offers clear choices

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Minnesota's 7th Congressional District is the largest in the state. It stretches from Moorhead in the west to Hutchinson in the east, and from the Canadian border to Marshall in southwestern Minnesota. It's a territory that Republican Michael Barrett is familiar with.

Barrett says he's driven 14,000 miles during the campaign, meeting voters.  In past elections,  challengers have attempted to portray the incumbent, Democrat Collin Peterson, as a liberal who is out of touch with the voters. Barrett's approach is slightly different.

Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett says he's driven 14,000 miles during the campaign meeting voters across the 7th Congressional District. In past elections challengers have attempted to portray the 7th district incumbent, Rep. Collin Peterson, as a liberal who is out of touch with the voters. Instead, Barrett says Peterson has changed he has put party above people and that's what's different.
Photo Courtesy Michael Barrett

"The issue here is not that he's too liberal, (but) that he has changed he has put party above people and that's what's different," says Barrett.

Barrett is quick to point out that Peterson is the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee. If Democrats win enough seats to take control of the House of Representatives from the Republicans, Peterson would become chair of the Ag committee.  While that could bode well for the residents of Minnesota's 7th Congressional District, Barrett notes,

"There are consequences that come with that. If my opponent becomes chair of the Ag Committee that means Nancy Pelosi is Speaker of the House of Representatives."

Barrett tells voters having the Democrats in control of Congress, will mean higher taxes.  He says the district may gain clout on one committee, but be hurt overall by the leaders of the party.

Barrett is hoping his message will attract voters like Casey Schlauderaff back to the Republican ticket.  The 28-year-old farms near Vergas, Minnesota.  He describes himself as a  right-leaning Republican, exactly the kind of voter that Barrett needs. But Schlauderaff says Barrett's argument isn't convincing, he plans to vote for Peterson.

U.S. Rep. Colin Peterson
Rep. Collin Peterson won his first term to Congress in 1990 in Minnesota's 7th Congressional District. Peterson is a Democrat from a conservative district, but over the past 16 years, Peterson has solidified his bond with voters. Two years ago he won re-election with 66 percent of the vote.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

"The biggest thing is with his (Peterson's)seniority in the Ag Committee we can't afford to vote someone out who is there," Schlauderaff says.

Schlauderaff says he's also impressed with Peterson's work ethic.

"I can't say, I've seen him take part in any of the political bickering that goes on, he seems to avoid that," Schlauderaff says. "He sets himself apart from Nancy Pelosi and people like that I can't say I've seen him in political fights like that, it just seems like he's there to work."

In a conservative district like the 7th, it's voters like Schlauderaff, who account for the incumbent's comfortable margin of victory. 

There is one group of voters that Peterson isn't popular with;  the liberal wing of his own party.  

Moorhead resident Sara Haeder says it's frustrating living in a conservative district.  A self-described liberal Democrat, Haeder  says Peterson is a little too conservative for her taste on environmental issues, but she'll  vote for him in November.

"I believe he represents his constituents well and I don't believe he is doing anything dirty or you know misrepresenting himself, saying this is who I am but then going and voting a different way. He's never really been too quiet about what his positions are and I respect that," says Haeder.

Rep. Collin Peterson says it's gratifying to hear constituents say they'll support him, even  though they don't always agree with him.  He believes it's proof his way of doing business in Congress is successful.

"The folks that are tied into ideology, and we have them on the left and on the right, who think that they are right and believe in an ideology, my experience is that if you have an ideological solution it is almost always wrong, whether it's on the left or on the right," says Peterson.

Peterson says if he becomes chair of the House Agriculture Committee, he won't change the way he approaches his job. 

Constitution Party candidate Ken Lucier is also in the race, but isn't expected to be much of a factor in the final outcome.

Republican challenger Michael Barrett says even if he loses, the race won't be over.  He plans to run again in 2008. He's willing to take a page right out of his opponent's playbook.  In fact,  Collin Peterson ran three times before he won his seat in Congress.