Will attacks on Rep. Collin Peterson backfire on GOP?

  • Article by: COREY MITCHELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 17, 2014 - 9:26 PM

Longtime Congressman weighs another run.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson
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U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson

– Amid mounting rumors of retirement, Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson says he’s gearing up for another re-election run.

“I’m running ’til I’m not,” said Peterson, who has represented Minnesota’s Seventh Congressional District since 1991.

Republicans have hammered Peterson with attack ads for the better part of a year, hoping to drive him out of Congress.

The ink was barely dry on the 2012 election results when the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the campaign arm of House Republicans, began to air televised ads against him last April.

Peterson also was included in a series of ads the committee posted that appeared to be official websites for Democratic candidates but actually opposed their campaigns. Those ads were revamped Monday after watchdog groups complained they were misleading and now make clear that donations will be used against the Democrats, including Peterson.

Annoyed by the latest attempts to push him out, Peterson has said he’s more likely to run now that Republicans are ramping up the pressure. He plans to make a final decision by early March.

“If they had left me alone, I might’ve retired by now,” said Peterson, considered the dean of Minnesota’s congressional delegation. “I guess it’s just part of their harassment campaign.”

For Republicans, it just makes sense to challenge Peterson in a rural, conservative-leaning district where voters have faithfully backed Republican presidential candidates for years.

Moderate record

Peterson over the years has crafted a moderate voting record that has made it tough for Republicans to paint him as a typical liberal. He took criticism from his own party for rejecting President Obama’s stimulus package and for being a founding member of the Blue Dog caucus, composed of Democrats who thought their party had tilted too far left.

After a couple of narrow wins in the early- to mid-90s, Peterson typically has won his elections handily. In 2012 he won a three-way race with more than 60 percent of the vote.

Republicans say Peterson’s latest challenger, GOP state Sen. Torrey Westrom of Elbow Lake, will test Peterson’s mettle and voting record. Westrom’s campaign is the first the NRCC has backed in more than a decade.

“I intend to represent the district [in Congress] next year,” said Westrom, an attorney and 17-year state lawmaker. “If Peterson’s in or out, that’ll be a decision he has to make.”

Beyond the farm bill

Peterson backers say his independent streak has served him well on Capitol Hill, where he has a reputation as a straight shooter more interested in progress than in politics.

As the lead Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, Peterson toiled for years to shepherd the nearly $1 trillion farm bill through Congress.

When Obama signed the bill into law last week, Peterson opted to head home for his district in western Minnesota rather than ride to Michigan on Air Force One for an outside-the-Beltway ceremony.

“It got signed whether I was there or not,” Peterson said.

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U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson