WASHINGTON, Aug. 20, 2014 – After serving as the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee for the last decade, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn, is preparing for a race against a candidate with a strong agricultural background of his own. And even though Peterson, 70, is widely expected to win, some say he’s facing one of his most formidable challengers yet in this heavily Republican district and potentially the man who will be well-positioned to win whenever he decides to retire.
Torrey Westrom is an 18-year veteran of the Minnesota state legislature, originally elected to the state’s House of Representatives when he was 23. Westrom currently serves as a state senator for Minnesota’s District 12, which has several overlapping counties with the 7th Congressional District he and Peterson are campaigning to represent.
Westrom, who grew up working on a dairy farm and lost his vison due to a farm-related accident at the age of 14, is a “life-long advocate for agriculture,” according to his campaign. When it comes to agriculture, both he and Peterson appear to have very similar stances on many issues.
“The issues important to us in agriculture and I think important to that district, are issues both candidates are very close on,” Kevin Paap, Minnesota Farm Bureau President, said in an interview with Agri-Pulse. “You’re not going to be able to differentiate yourself on those issues between the two candidates.”
Peterson, who is seeking his 13th term in Congress, said he isn’t doing anything outside the ordinary for a re-election bid, joking that he was “raising money, doing my thing.” He said perceptions that this race is any different from his previous 12 are coming largely from those seeking to unseat him.
“I don’t see much difference this time than I’ve seen in the past. The (only) difference is the Republican party has made this a race that they’re potentially going to get involved in,” Peterson said after a campaign forum at Farmfest, a farm show in rural Morgan, Minnesota. The National Republican Congressional Committee named Westrom as one of their “Young Guns” potentially opening the door for more financial support and campaign resources.
While some see Westrom’s background and status as a rising star in the Republican party as reason to believe he could unseat Peterson, American Crystal Sugar’s Vice President of Government Affairs Kevin Price disagrees.
“It looks to us like Collin Peterson is headed for another victory,” Price said in an interview with Agri-Pulse. “Just like we have in previous campaigns, we always support Collin Peterson and we’re glad to have the ability to do so.”
The 7th district is the biggest sugar beet-producing district in the country and Peterson has a strong track record of support for the nation’s sugar policy.
“We have a long-running policy of supporting an incumbent if the incumbent has been supportive of us, and there’s been no incumbent more supportive of us than Collin Peterson,” Price said. “There’s no better relationship for us in Congress from our growers’ perspective than that between them and Collin Peterson.”
The Minnesota Farm Bureau formally announced an endorsement of Peterson on Monday, adding to a list that includes the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the Minnesota Farmers Union, according to Peterson’s campaign website.
“(Peterson) understands agriculture, he’s responsive to our concerns and our questions, and he’s willing to help us get answers,” Paap said.
Although Westrom doesn’t argue with Peterson’s prowess as an agricultural legislator, he says it’s time for a change and aims to link him with unpopular Washington politics and national Democratic leaders like Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Cali., and President Barack Obama.
“Washington is a mess right now,” Westrom said. “It’s time to shake things up and it’s time to make changes, and you don’t change Washington if you don’t change the players at the table.”
Peterson said he agrees with the public disgust for Washington, and is determined to emphasize his bi-partisan approach to voters.
“I don’t think most people see me as the problem,” Peterson emphasized.
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