With Peterson's defeat, a longtime DFL stronghold shifts into GOP hands

Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson’s loss to the GOP's Michelle Fischbach after three decades representing Minnesota's 7th Congressional District highlights western Minnesota’s gradual shift into the Republican column.

Even as one of the few remaining “Blue Dog Democrats,” Peterson's more conservative views couldn't stave off political changes in his district this time. His seat was a loss for congressional Democrats who hoped a "blue wave" would help expand their vote margin in the U.S. House of Representatives – an expectation that didn't materialize.

Fischbach was Peterson's toughest challenger in years, and despite underperforming President Donald Trump in the district by about 10 points, she flipped the district into the GOP column for the first time since Peterson was elected in 1990.

The DFL lost significant ground among voters across the region, with Peterson leading 52 percent of precincts in 2018 and only 24 percent this year – a loss of around 360 precincts, mostly in the stretches of rural western Minnesota outside of Moorhead and other surrounding Democratic strongholds.

Peterson lost significant ground in the 7th
2012 lead margins
2018 lead margins
2020 lead margins

Peterson's margins had been gradually cut for years, with this loss representing a 20-point decline from his dominant performance in 2012. While a stronger third-party candidate showing may have somewhat eaten into his margins this year (those candidates drew about 7 percent of the vote), the difference wouldn't have been enough to overtake Fischbach.

In the presidential race, 64 percent of voters in the district chose Trump, while 59 percent went for Jason Lewis in the U.S. Senate contest. Those voters also helped propel several Republican victories in the Minnesota Legislature. The Cook Partisan Voting Index – which rates how Republican or Democratic someplace is compared to national averages – scored the 7th District R+12 prior to this election, and it's been drifting increasingly toward the GOP for years.

While Democrats still have strong support along the state's western edge, the region is another example of the increasingly vivid divides between Minnesota's small towns and larger cities.