Updated: 5:40 p.m.
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who has represented western Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District for three decades, announced Friday he will run again, ending months of speculation about his future in Congress.
The 15-term Democrat is the senior member of Minnesota’s congressional delegation, and a consistent outlier in an increasingly polarized U.S. Congress.
“This wasn’t an easy decision for me because our country is so polarized right now, but that’s also why I want to ask the voters of western Minnesota to support me again,” Peterson said in a statement.
Of all the Democrats in the House, Peterson’s district is the most Republican. Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 30 points there in 2016.
“There aren’t many like me left in Congress,” Peterson said. “Rural Democrats are few and far between and I’m concerned that rural America is getting left behind.”
Known for his conservative views which, among other things, earn him top rankings from the National Rifle Association, Peterson recently made headlines for being one of three Democrats to vote against House Democrats’ impeachment of President Donald Trump. "This process has been a mistake and I will not be whipped in line by my party,” he said in a statement at the time.
Peterson has often gone against his party, and was an original member of the conservative Democrat Blue Dog Coalition. In past elections, he’s told reporters that he refused campaign funds from the national Democratic Party.
Peterson, 75, is likely to face a tough race this election season. Seven other candidates — two Democrats and five Republicans — have already filed paperwork to run in the race. Former lieutenant governor and state senator Michelle Fischbach, one of the Republican contenders, has already won the endorsement of President Trump.
The state DFL has thrown its support behind Peterson. Party chair Ken Martin said in a news release Friday that he’s thrilled Peterson will run again. “Now more than ever, our farmers need a fighter in their corner, and there’s no better fighter for farmers and for Greater Minnesota than Rep. Collin Peterson,” Martin said.
The farm bill factor
Peterson was first elected to Congress in 1990, unseating seven-term Republican Congressman Arlan Stangeland after three unsuccessful attempts.
In 1992 and 1994, he narrowly won reelection over Republican Bernie Omann in the conservative 7th District, but retained his seat with relative ease for several election cycles after that.
His margins of victory have narrowed in the past three elections.
Peterson chairs the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, and has strong support among farm groups who hold significant sway in his ag-heavy western Minnesota district, which runs along Minnesota’s border with the Dakotas, from Rock and Nobles counties in the south, all the way to the Canadian border. It stretches east to just outside the Twin Cities metro area, and north through Beltrami and Lake of the Woods counties.
An ag-focused political action committee, the Committee for Stronger Rural Communities, started running ads supporting Peterson late last year, and farm groups have been urging him to run again.
Peterson recently claimed credit for helping secure $285 million in disaster relief for sugarbeet cooperatives hit hard by fall weather conditions that caused significant crop damage.
His primary focus in Congress has been work on the farm bill — a massive piece of nutrition and farm support legislation that is typically renewed every five years. The most recent farm bill was enacted in 2018.
Late last year, Peterson said the next farm bill would be a key factor in his decision to seek a 16th term.
"I can win; I'm not worried about that,” he said at the time. “I'm almost worried I will win. Because the issue is: Do I want to stay around to do another farm bill? Because basically I've got to stay three more terms if I want to do that. So, I've got to make that decision. Do I want to make that commitment?"
A blue rep in a red district
Of all House districts held by Democrats, Minnesota’s 7th District has proven to be the most heavily supportive of President Trump. And Peterson was one of three House Democrats to vote against their colleagues’ articles of impeachment against the president late last year.
In a brief interview Friday, Peterson told Fargo-based Prairie Public Broadcasting he's confident but expects a tough race. "I've got the most Republican district in the country held by a Democrat,” he said. “But you know what, our polling looks good, we're strong, I think we'll be fine. We're gonna run a strong campaign."
Trump won the 7th District by a wide margin in 2016. The president this week endorsed Fischbach, who is among five Republican candidates who have announced their intention to run in the district.
“The people of the 7th District support President Trump,” Fischbach said in a statement Friday, “and they will soundly reject Collin Peterson and the socialist policies of open borders, free health care for illegal immigrants, taxpayer-funded abortion, and mandatory gun buyback programs that his preferred presidential candidate supports.”
Two-time Republican candidate Dave Hughes is also among those seeking party endorsement. He came within four percentage points of Peterson in 2018 voting, and lost by five points in 2016.
“Congressman Peterson is the perfect example of what is wrong with the D.C. swamp,” Hughes said in a statement after the announcement Friday. He went on to add that he, instead, would “be a champion for conservative policies.”
State Republican Party chair Jennifer Carnahan released a statement Friday, saying Peterson was “ignoring the writing on the wall” by deciding to run again.
“Peterson running again does not change the fact that Minnesota's 7th is going to turn red in November,” she said.
Hughes and Fischbach are joined by Noel Collis, Joel Novak and Jayesun Sherman, all vying for the Republican ticket and the 7th District seat.
After Peterson’s announcement Friday, Novak took aim at ag policies and the most recent farm bill. “Western Minnesotans are not going to give him a 16th chance,” Novak said. “Enough is enough.”
Two Democrats — Stephen Emery, an attorney whose campaign website says he’s running on a conservative platform that is “pro-life, pro-traditional family, pro-private enterprise” and Thaddeus Laugisch, an artist and designer who worked as an organizer for presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders — have also filed with the Federal Election Commission their intentions to run for the seat.
Peterson’s conservative positions have occasionally prompted opposition within the state DFL in the past, but 7th District party chair Jennifer Cronin said Friday the party enthusiastically supports Peterson’s re-election.
The latest FEC report shows Peterson with just over $1 million in his campaign coffers.