U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson may have voted against impeaching President Donald Trump last week, but it didn't save him from the political attacks that Republicans unleashed against Democrats they perceive to be vulnerable on the issue.
"Western Minnesotans support President Trump and are sick and tired of Collin Peterson voting for Speaker Pelosi, as he has for the past two decades," blared a news release from former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach, the Republican front-runner to challenge Peterson next year. "They are ready for a new conservative voice who will stand against the Democrats' political witch hunt to impeach and remove President Trump."
Peterson's political survival next year depends on his ability to keep defying gravity in a mostly rural congressional district that backed the president by more than 30 points over Democrat Hillary Clinton three years ago. Despite that whopping margin, Peterson pulled off wins in 2016 and 2018 against Republican Dave Hughes.
Some observers saw Peterson's vote against impeachment as a sign he plans to stay in Congress. He hasn't said. First elected in 1990, Peterson has been mum about his 2020 plans, saying he will make up his mind in January ("or February," he told me recently). One pull factor for the current House Agriculture Committee chairman, he said, is knowing that the next federal farm bill will be put together in both the 2021-22 and 2023-24 congressional terms. He wouldn't want to abandon that process partway through, Peterson said.
"So it's really a question of do I want to be here for another four years," he said.
It's tempting to conclude that, were Peterson not worried about facing Seventh District voters next November, he might have felt a little more free to vote for impeachment.
Then again, Peterson has long professed a hatred for the hyperpartisanship that has taken hold in Congress. He's known to complain that the House has too many former federal prosecutors.
"He obviously did it. He said he did it," Peterson said of Trump's pressure on the new Ukrainian president to announce an investigation of political rival and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. "But what's the full context? What was the other guy thinking? I don't think it was smart, but I'm not a lawyer. What is a high crime and misdemeanor?"
Peterson was one of just two House Democrats who voted against both articles of impeachment. The other, Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, sat in the Oval Office with Trump on Thursday and said he'd be switching parties. Van Drew also won Trump's backing in a brewing GOP primary battle in his district.
Peterson said he fielded requests from leading national Republicans to switch parties. But it won't happen, he said.
"I'm not going to do that at this stage in my career," he said.
Which means we'll never know whether a party switch would have earned Peterson Trump's endorsement over Fischbach.
Patrick Condon • 612-673-4413