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Fischbach says she'll back Trump on trade, other issues

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Republican Lt. Governor Michelle Fischbach.
Then-Republican Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach takes questions from reporters during a press conference inside the State Office Building in St. Paul in May 2018.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Republican congressional hopeful Michelle Fischbach defended President Trump’s approach toward trade Tuesday after launching a bid for a western Minnesota district where crosscurrents between a fragile farm economy and the president’s popularity loom large.

Fischbach, a former state senator who served a year as lieutenant governor, hopes to capitalize on Trump’s past popularity in a district represented for decades by a Democrat in Congress. Rep. Collin Peterson, long a target of Republicans, hasn’t declared his intentions for 2020.

No matter what, the state of agriculture is sure to be front of mind for many voters in the sprawling district that runs nearly from the Canadian to the Iowa borders.

Corn, soybeans and sugar beets are the big crops grown in that part of the state. Low commodity prices, combined with fallout from a tariff battle with China, have many farmers on edge.

Fischbach said she hopes farmers have patience as the Trump administration pursues a deal.

“I think China has been ripping our farmers off for years and we need to play that long game and make sure that in the end we have a fair trade deal with China and that our farmers are well-compensated,” she said in an interview Tuesday.

Peterson is a significant player in the nation’s farm policy as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, a post he regained when Democrats took control of Congress this year.

DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said Fischbach will be held accountable for Trump’s trade policies that have led to tariffs on Minnesota farm products.

“Now more than ever, rural Minnesotans need a fighter like Collin Peterson in their corner,” Martin said.

Fischbach, who was heavily recruited to run for the seat, said western Minnesota voters are more in line with Trump. She aligned herself with Trump on border security and immigration policy. She noted Trump’s 30-percentage point win in the district in the 2016 election.

“I think the people of western Minnesota really deserve a member of Congress who is going to represent their values and not support the liberal Pelosi agenda,” she said, referring to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

Fischbach didn’t identify any areas where she disagrees with Trump.

“Off the top of my head I can’t think of one at this point,” she said. “But certainly, my job would be to represent the people of the 7th District.”

Fischbach, 53, is returning to politics after a brief hiatus. She ran in 2018 on former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s gubernatorial ticket, which lost in the primary. Fischbach had held the lieutenant governor role under DFL Gov. Mark Dayton because she was Senate president when Dayton appointed then-Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to the U.S. Senate.

Three other Republicans have previously formed campaigns for the 7th District seat, including two-time nominee and Air Force veteran David Hughes. Hughes said he’s pressing ahead. 

He said he has built critical relationships in all 38 counties in the district and has the pulse of voters, who want big changes to immigration policy to tighten up asylum procedures and secure the border with a wall. 

Hughes said Fischbach starts her campaign from square one. 

“Michelle Fischbach is another career politician. She’s been in office since 1995, which is almost as long as Collin Peterson has been in Congress,” he said. “I don’t think putting a 22-year state senator in the race and putting her in Washington is what the folks here are looking for.”

Hughes noted his 2018 endorsement by Trump on Twitter, and he predicted Republican voters will hold Fischbach’s association with Pawlenty — who questioned candidate Trump’s fitness for office -- against her.

Fischbach said she’ll abide by the endorsement decision of party activists.

If Peterson does run for a 16th term, he’ll have a head start on fundraising. As of early July, he had more than $830,000 in the bank. That’s more than he usually has in reserve at this stage of the cycle.