Observers say despite anti-incumbent mood, Peterson might see 11th term in 7th District

Rep. Collin Peterson
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a DFLer who represents Minnesota's 7th Congressional District, talks to constituents last year at a town hall meeting in Willmar, Minn.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Rep. Collin Peterson has three challengers in the 7th District this year.

Despite national polls that show an anti-incumbent mood, political observers predict the 10-term DFL congressman will easily win another election.

Republican-endorsed candidate Lee Byberg said cutting government spending trumps any other issue before Congress.

Byberg is new to politics, inspired to run he says by what he calls out of control government spending. Byberg, a Willmar businessman who grew up in Norway, said the growing budget deficit threatens the American dream.

"That's a symptom of a country whose leaders have gone way beyond its means. And we have to rein that in," Byberg said. "That means we have to elect leaders who will take that on as the next challenge for us as a nation."

Byberg said Peterson will support the Democrats' agenda, which Byberg says involves more spending and bigger government.

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Peterson said he voted against the 2009 economic stimulus package because it increased government debt.

Lee Byberg
Republican Lee Byberg is challenging Democrat Collin Peterson in Minnesota's 7th Congressional district in the 2010 midterm election.
Photo courtesy Lee Byberg

And as Agriculture Committee Chairman, he said, he pushed for a $6 billion cut in the federal crop insurance program. Peterson said $4 billion of that savings went to reduce the federal deficit.

"If everybody in the government would have done what I did, you know how much we'd reduce the deficit? $2.3 trillion over 10 years," he said. "So don't talk to me about not cutting spending. We're the only people that did. The Republicans in those other committees won't do it. They'll talk about it but they won't do it."

Peterson says if he's still chairman of the Agriculture Committee next year, he will hold the line on spending in the new farm bill.

Independence party candidate Glen Menze is no stranger to 7th District voters. He's run twice as the Republican candidate. This year he's raised little money and run a quiet campaign.

Menze says Peterson has become a Washington insider, influenced by powerful corporate donors.

"Most of the politics in the 7th district is run by outside money. I believe that's part of the problem. We don't necessarily have a congressman who is focusing on our district," Menza said.

Peterson said his chairmanship is resulting in more campaign contributions, but he says he's focused on issues like agriculture and flood control that are critical to his district.

Glen Menze
Glen Menze is the IP-endorsed candidate in the 2010 3rd District congressional race.
Photo courtesy Menze campaign

There's another independent candidate who is primarily funding his own campaign. Former DFL State Rep. Gene Waldorf said he's running because he's angry about a lack of leadership in congress.

Waldorf says the federal deficit must be cut to stimulate economic growth.

"The spending needs to be stopped where it's at to get some confidence in our future," he said. "And we're not going to get small businesses to hire people unless they can see an improved future."

Waldorf favors an across the board spensaid ding freeze on federal programs.

Republican candidate Lee Byberg has raised more than $300,000. That's far more than Collin Peterson's opponents have raised in recent election cycles. Peterson said he has raised $1.1 million in the current campaign cycle.

Minnesota State University Moorhead political science professor Barbara Headrick said she doesn't see any signs of a threat to the incumbent.

"If there is a Republican wave I think it's going to miss Collin Peterson," she said.

Headrick said Peterson's position as Agriculture Committee chairman and his efforts to get federal help for fighting floods earns support among voters.

She said voters might even like the fact Peterson tends to speak bluntly and occasionally raises eyebrows with his comments.

"He's going to say some outrageous things and he tends to tick off Democrats more than Republicans when he says those things," Headrick said. "But I don't think it really hurts him. I think people say, 'well, that's Collin Peterson, we know who he is and we don't see any reason to get rid of him.'"

Peterson and his Republican challenger Byberg will be running campaign commercials between now and election day.

That's something 7th District voters haven't seen much of in recent years.