MOORHEAD, Minn. — Voters in Minnesota's 7th Congressional District might be poised to do something really strange. They might be willing to blatantly give away their power so their representative has a different letter behind her name.
It's 2020. Why should we expect anything to make sense?
Longtime Rep. Collin Peterson, a conservative Democrat, is in the fight for his political life against Michelle Fischbach, a Republican. Smart money says things will have to go exactly right for Peterson to retain his seat. The 7th will vote strongly for President Donald Trump.
This is baffling. Not because of the politics, which are obvious, but because of practicality. Peterson is the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, one of the most powerful positions when it comes to influencing U.S. farm and ranch policy.
Collin Peterson (D) 75% Michelle Fischbach (R) 22% Other 3%
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Collin Peterson (D)
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And he's right here from the 7th District, where 85% of the land is in crops and the economy revolves largely around farming.
"It's a once in a lifetime thing to have the chairman of House ag be the representative who's from your district," says Kelly Erickson, a farmer from Hallock, Minn. "If Collin is gone, it's not going to happen again."
Yet there's a good chance Peterson could lose to Fischbach, a partisan who knows little of agriculture and will have no influence in the House if she wins.
Like we said, strange.
That's why Erickson and others connected to Moorhead-based American Crystal Sugar started the Committee for Stronger Rural Communities, a Super PAC tasked with helping get Peterson re-elected. Erickson is on the Crystal Sugar board of directors and serves as the CSRC chair.
"We all feel it's really important that Collin gets re-elected," Erickson said. "It's not just sugar beets. It's all sectors of ag. Everybody in ag knows that Collin is very important to agriculture."
The CSRC is nearing its goal of raising $1 million. Some of the cash will be used for television and digital ads supporting Peterson, the first of which just went up.
It features Erik Bakke, a farmer from Ulen, Minn., who is also a Crystal Sugar board member. The gist is that Peterson, because of his moderate nature, is the only one who can get things done for 7th District farmers.
"Our district is so rural and so dependent on agriculture that it's a little surprising (the race) is even close," Bakke said. "But politics are getting so polarized, and it's just such a different atmosphere. I think it's important to remember that we have a guy from the 7th District who can get things done for us. Collin delivers."
In a 2019 New York Times article, Bakke was presented as a Trump voter who supports Peterson. When asked if he was voting for Trump again, Bakke demurred by calling himself "undecided at this point."
"You sometimes wonder if anybody out in D.C. is thinking about the best interests of the people back home," Bakke said. "I know that if we had more Collins in D.C., we'd get more accomplished."
Whether the rest of the 7th District feels that way remains to be seen. And that includes farmers, who might be willing to trade their power for a different letter.