Republicans make U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson an early target

  • Article by: COREY MITCHELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 19, 2013 - 9:43 PM

The long-serving conservative congressman laughed off a TV ad attack 18 months before elections.

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

– Further evidence of the never-ending federal election cycle is cropping up in western Minnesota.

In its first targeted campaign of the season, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans, aired televised attack ads this month against Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn. — more than 18 months before voters go to the polls.

The ads attempted to tie Peterson to President Obama and his health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act, both unpopular in his sprawling rural district. “Instead of voting to balance the budget, he voted to spend $1.8 trillion on Obamacare,” a narrator said in the ad.

Peterson did not vote for the Affordable Care Act, but voted against its repeal. He also voted against the House Republican budget, which brings federal spending in line with revenues over 10 years.

Peterson laughed off the attack. “They don’t have anybody else to go after,” he said. “It’s kind of ridiculous, but whatever.”

The Seventh District is a political anomaly, a conservative-leaning district represented for almost a quarter-century by a Democrat.

On the surface, it makes sense to challenge Peterson there. According to the Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index, Peterson has Minnesota’s second-most GOP-leaning congressional district, trailing only that of Rep. Michele Bachmann. Nationally, Peterson is in the fifth-most Republican-leaning district represented by a Democrat.

“The DNA of the district is very competitive. It’s one that should be in play every election when you look at the underlying mechanics,” said Jessica Taylor, an analyst with the Rothenberg Political Report.

But the numbers and rhetoric haven’t added up for Republicans in almost two decades. That was the last time an election challenger came within 10 percentage points of Peterson. In 2012, Peterson captured 60 percent of the vote, defeating his opponent by 26 percentage points.

“He’s built a brand for himself in the district,” said Brandon Lorenz, a spokesman with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

So far, Republicans have not found a viable candidate to challenge Peterson in 2014.

“Every day I run into people who tell me, ‘You’re the only Democrat I’ve ever voted for and I vote for you every time,’ ” said Peterson, the lead Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee.

On Tuesday, the National Republican Congressional Committee released an analysis of Peterson’s first-quarter campaign fundraising that shows that almost 90 percent of his donations came from outside Minnesota; of the 62 individual donors, seven are from Minnesota.

“Money talks,” said Alleigh Marre, an NRCC spokeswoman. “And it’s evident that Minnesota families don’t think they’re getting their money’s worth from Democrat Collin Peterson.”

Veteran representatives from both parties, especially those who serve as committee chairs or ranking members, often receive a sizable portion of their donations from political action committees. In the last election cycle, roughly 80 percent of Peterson’s donations came from PACs.

A $2,000 ad buy

As a conservative Democrat, Peterson’s votes are scrutinized by allies and critics, because his decisions often are not governed by party allegiance. Peterson’s district is one of seven in the country still held by a Democrat whose constituents voted for the Republican nominee in each of the last three presidential elections.

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U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson