In western Minn., candidates find common ground in 7th District debate

Two side by side portraits one of a woman and one of a man.
DFL U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson (left) and Republican challenger Michelle Fischbach.
Courtesy of campaign

Seventh Congressional District U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson and his Republican challenger, Michelle Fischbach, met in Fargo Monday evening to debate policy and politics, a month before Election Day.

The candidates generally agreed on many issues — from farm policy to Social Security to a strong dislike for the way Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has responded to the coronavirus pandemic.

They agree, in part, on the trade war with China, too: Both called the country a bad actor. But Peterson, who chairs the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, faulted President Donald Trump for using tariffs to pressure China.

"I think these tariffs have been a huge mistake,” he said. “They have not worked. They have hurt not only farmers they've hurt manufacturers, they hurt Polaris, a lot of other folks in my district, and they have not solved the problem.

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Fischbach, a former state legislator and lieutenant governor, defended the president.

"Congressman Peterson is going to talk about the tariffs and blame them on the president, but do understand [President Trump] is trying to do what he thinks is right to make sure that we get a decent deal from China," said Fischbach.

Peterson, has represented Minnesota’s sprawling 7th District — which covers nearly all of the western region of the state to North and South Dakota, from the Canadian border and Lake of the Woods County in the north to McLeod and Sibley counties to the east, to Pipestone, Murray and Cottonwood in the south — since 1991.

He touted his clout as ag committee chair.

Fischbach expressed strong support for Trump’s policies.

Both candidates expressed dislike for the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.

Peterson said he voted against the legislation, but because it guarantees coverage for people with preexisting health conditions, he won't vote to repeal the bill, unless there is a better option to replace it.

Fischbach also pledged to support coverage for preexisting conditions, but she said the ACA should be repealed.

When moderator Matt Olien, a producer for debate host Prairie Public Broadcasting, asked about racial justice and policing, both candidates noted that they have been endorsed by a law enforcement organization — and both expressed strong support for law enforcement.

Peterson said leaders in the Twin Cities were "asleep at the switch" when unrest broke out earlier this year after the police killing of George Floyd. He said the question of whether systemic racism exists "depends on where you live.”

Fischbach said better training and more support could help remove the small number of police officers who might be racist, but added that "rioting is not the way to address the issue." She said law and order is second only to the economy among concerns she hears from voters.

"They want to make sure that the stuff that's going on in Minneapolis is not going to happen in their backyard,” she said.

For Peterson, the top concern he hears from residents of the district is about the coronavirus pandemic.

"People are very concerned about COVID and about the fact that we're not getting this under control," he said. Both candidates agreed the public should follow coronavirus prevention recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The general election will be held on Nov. 3.