To say that a lot of people in agriculture want Chairman Collin Peterson to run for re-election would be an understatement.
Industry groups are going all in to raise money for his re-election and in sugar beet country, American Crystal Sugar and other groups launched “The Committee for Stronger Rural Communities,” a super political action committee that will only focus on re-electing Peterson this cycle. The groups have already raised over $500,000.
He is an experienced and steady hand at the helm of the House Agriculture Committee, where the Blue Dog Democrat is known for his straightforward “tell it as I see it” delivery and willingness to buck his own party when he sees fit.
He has been a staunch defender of crop insurance and is one of the few Democrats who will argue against tightening payment limits on commodity programs. And even if ag industry groups don’t agree with him, they know where he stands. That might not be the case, they fear, with the next Democrat running the committee, who could have far less experience.
But there’s only one concern at this point. He’s publicly told supporters he’s running, but is now being coy about whether or not that's still the case — even though several ag groups are ready to put their bets down.
“We’ve only got one horse in this game and we’re putting all of our dollars on him to win,” said a crop insurance industry source who asked not to be named.
That could lead to fewer donations for others in line to succeed him if he doesn’t run. That potential list includes Democrats Jim Costa of California, Reps. David Scott of Georgia, Marcia Fudge of Ohio, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Filemon Vila of Texas.
The Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau hosted a PAC fundraiser for Peterson last Thursday night at their annual meeting in Bonita Springs, Fla., raising thousands of dollars for Peterson's re-election.
But as he walked out the door when the event ended, Agri-Pulse asked Peterson if he was definitely running. “I’m still mulling the situation,” he said with a smile. When pressed, he was even more unclear about his end game.
“I tell people I’m running until I’m not.”
Peterson reportedly told a source that if he voted for impeachment, it would be a sign he would be retiring. As it turns out, he was one of two Democrats to vote against both articles of impeachment.
When Agri-Pulse asked when he was going to decide about running again, Peterson said he does not have to file until May.
“I’m still sorting through things. I’m looking at this presidential thing to see where it ends up.”
Later in the conversation, he said that he might decide after Super Tuesday, March 3, the day when the highest number of U.S. states hold primaries or caucuses.
“I know I can win. That’s not the issue. That’s the problem. I’m not sure that I want to win,” he said, chuckling.
Asked what would happen if President Trump shows up to campaign in your district?
“Then I might not win,” he responded. “Who knows?”
Peterson has represented Minnesota’s 7th District, which stretches from Canada to Iowa on the western side of the state, since 1991. In 2018, he had one of his tightest races, but still beat Republican Dave Hughes with 52.5 percent of the vote, compared to Hughes with 47.9 percent. The district voted twice for Obama before flipping to Trump in 2016.
The National Republican Congressional Committee lists Peterson and his district as one of 55 Democratic seats that they hope to flip in 2020. NRCC’s Chairman Rep. Tom Emmer, who represents Minnesota’s 6th district, recruited Michelle Fischbach to challenge Peterson.
She’s served in the Minnesota Senate from 1996 to 2018 and became lieutenant governor to Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton in 2018, when the governor named Tina Smith to the U.S. Senate following Sen. Al Franken’s resignation. Fischbach was former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s running mate in 2018 during his unsuccessful primary bid for governor. Her husband, Scott Fischbach, is executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, giving her a strong platform to reach the anti-abortion community of advocates.
She’s not the only Republican in the race, but she has garnered the most publicity and support from the NRCC. David Hughes, who challenged Peterson the last two cycles, is also running in the GOP primary, along with three others.
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The Cook Political Report changed its rating of the race from “Lean Democratic” to “Toss Up” after Fischbach entered the race — in part due to her “strong backing from the NRCC.”
David Wasserman, House editor for the Cook Political Report, says he wouldn't run again if he were Peterson. For one thing, Minnesota will likely lose a House seat after the 2020 census, potentially leaving Peterson without a seat in 2022. Peterson has said he won't run in 2020 unless he's sure he will run in 2022 as well. There's no point in running for re-election unless he stays long enough to oversee the writing of the next farm bill, which is due in 2023, he said.
The second factor against Peterson, said Wasserman, "is that we are seeing a huge decline in the amount of split ticket voting in this country. It’s really, really hard to get elected if you are wearing the wrong color jersey in your district — no matter how personally popular you are.” In 2016, President Donald Trump carried Peterson’s district by 61% to 31%. No other House member has a district where the other party’s presidential candidate got more than 54% of the vote.
“I would put his chances of running at 50-50 at best and put his chance of winning if he were to run at 50-50 at best,” Wasserman said. “That would be a big, big sea change in the ag policy world.”
But Kevin Price, vice president for government affairs for American Crystal Sugar, thinks Peterson will run and win because of what Price describes as “the Collin brand.”
“He’s never been one to let his representation remove him from his roots and he’s always stayed close physically and philosophically to the 7th district,” Price told Agri-Pulse. “When folks are looking at what they need, they look for someone who reflects their beliefs and gets the job done like Collin.”
Peterson left the CIRB meeting last week to speak in nearby Naples at a Minnesota breakfast, a weekly event for Minnesotans who overwinter in Florida. He still didn’t announce but had all the swagger of a confident candidate.
Peterson said Trump is "still very popular in my district ... like 57%” approval.
“The good news is that I’m more popular than he is,” he said. “I was Trump before Trump existed. I just don’t tweet.”
Peterson said the problem for his party is that, “People are fed up with the Democrats…. They see Democrats as elitist who want to take their guns away and Trump tapped into that.”
“But I’m the only one left like me. I’m the only pro-gun, A-Plus rating (from the National Rifle Association) left in Congress. There are two of us that are pro-life. When I came (to Congress) there were 85. And they are trying to get rid of us.
“I thought this impeachment thing was a big mistake. Nancy told me they wouldn’t do it unless that had public support and some Republicans,” he said of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “They did it anyway. People in my district say this is BS. If Trump gets reelected, it will be because of impeachment.”
Peterson left the breakfast meeting early in order to travel to the Virgin Islands for a day of meetings with another Democrat on his committee, Rep. Stacey Plaskett. Then he was headed back to his district, “So I can figure out if I’m going to run for re-election," he added.
Peterson on the presidential candidates
Peterson shared some thoughts with Agri-Pulse about the Democratic presidential candidates.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar probably doesn't have "enough money to survive.”
And neither Klobuchar nor former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg have enough support among African-Americans to win the Democratic nomination, he said.
Peterson said that the Democratic nominee could be former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has Rep. Bobby Rush as the head of his African-American caucus. “What does that tell you? ... He’s got good support in the black community.”
Peterson didn’t rule out that former Vice President Joe Biden could make a comeback but so far, “he just doesn’t look good.”
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