U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson put the rumors of his retirement to rest, saying: “There’s a lot of work to be done.”
MOORHEAD – In the last 24 years, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson has become a rare survivor of an endangered breed in Washington — a Democrat who sides with Republicans and works with both sides. That lonely and often frustrating stance made many believe Peterson was ready to call it quits.
But Peterson, of Detroit Lakes, said on Monday he still has the will to fight.
“There’s a lot of work to be done … so I’m here today to announce that I am going to run for re-election,” Peterson said, in the aging atrium of the Moorhead Center Mall surrounded by a smattering of supporters.
Whether Peterson can win re-election with the double-digit ease he has in recent years will test whether there is still a place for a moderate in the starkly partisan politics of nationalized elections.
Peterson’s announcement dashed the hopes of national Republicans who believe without Peterson on the ballot, the western Minnesota district is theirs for the taking. It also gave Democrats reason for relief — without Peterson, many say they would struggle to keep the seat.
A founder of the once mighty “Blue Dog Coalition” of conservative Democrats, Peterson has seen his moderate compatriots diminish in strength and number. On Monday, Peterson trashed both Tea Party Republicans and extreme left Democrats.
“It is almost as rigid on that side as it is on the Tea Party side,” he lamented. “We used to have more middle-of-the-road districts.”
The 69-year-old said the drama around his re-election plans was of Republicans’ making. But Peterson also said that he only made his final decision last week.
His fundraising numbers, however, raised questions — he raised just $165,000 in the final months of 2013. While that haul was slightly more than Peterson usually raises, it is far less than many vulnerable members brought in.
He also fueled retirement rumors by talking openly about his views of the “foolishness” of Washington.
The former chairman of the House Agriculture Committee when Democrats were in charge, now the ranking Democrat on the committee, Peterson spent years negotiating through the details of a farm bill that only materialized last month. He had described the process as “lunacy, never-never land.”
“It was almost a miracle that we got this thing done,” Peterson said Monday. But he said he’s healed from that turmoil.
A Republican-sponsored poll last month found that Peterson has a high approval rating in the district, but those who believed it was time for a new person to represent the district outnumbered those who said Peterson deserved re-election. A significant number said they were unsure.
State Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, has mounted a campaign to replace Peterson. The National Republican Congressional Committee, which has hammered Peterson for months, made clear even if it failed to goad Peterson into retirement, it hoped to make Peterson’s re-election fight difficult.
“We have every intention of forcing him into retirement in November,” said Tyler Q. Houlton, NRCC spokesman.
Calling Peterson out of touch, the NRCC said the Detroit Lakes Democrat has helped “Barack Obama’s reckless agenda.”
The national Republican critique, however, may ring hollow.