ST. PAUL — Former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach announced Monday, Sept. 2, that she would challenge U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson in Minnesota's 7th Congressional District.
The move tees up a competitive bid in the district that spans much of the western side of the state and launches one of the most serious challenges Peterson, a Democrat who has held the seat for decades, has seen.
President Donald Trump won the 7th District by more than 30 percentage points in 2016, setting up the nation's congressional district with the most support for the president that is also represented by a Democrat in Congress. Peterson was re-elected in 2016 by a smaller margin, about 5 percentage points, over Republican Dave Hughes.
But Fischbach, who also served as the state's first female president of the Minnesota Senate before ascending to her role as lieutenant governor in 2018, said Peterson has grown out of touch with his district and could use someone more willing to work with the White House.
“Western Minnesota families deserve a representative who will fight for their values in Washington and support President Trump’s agenda – not the socialist agenda of Nancy Pelosi, Ilhan Omar, and the rest of the squad," Fischbach, a Republican, said in a statement Monday. "People here believe in our constitutional rights. They believe in the right to life. They believe in making sure the next generation has the opportunity to pursue the American dream right here in Western Minnesota.”
The announcement of her candidacy elicited a change in the competitiveness of the race by election predictor Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball, from leans Democratic to a toss-up.
Fischbach was first elected to the Minnesota Senate in 1996 and served there advancing to committee leadership and senate president roles until 2018. The Republican attended St. Cloud State University and earned a bachelor's degree and went on to William Mitchell College of Law where she received her Juris Doctor degree. Fischbach and her husband, Scott, live in the Paynesville area and they have two grown children as well as five grandchildren.
Peterson hasn't officially announced whether he'll seek re-election next year, but he told the Forum News Service in June that he would make his plans known early next year. Dave Hughes, a Republican, has said he'll also seek the seat in 2020.
Peterson has served in Congress for 28 years and has often broken away on party-line votes. He also chairs the House Committee on Agriculture.
Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Ken Martin said Republicans have tried and failed to take down Peterson in the past, but Minnesotans have re-elected him and will likely continue to do so. Martin also pointed to the U.S.'s ongoing trade war with China and noted that it will weigh on many voters' minds come 2020.
“Right now, President Donald Trump is engaged in a reckless trade war that’s devastating Minnesota’s farmers and agricultural economy. Dave Hughes or Michelle Fischbach would doubtless be another rubber stamp for Donald Trump’s disastrous trade policies that are hurting rural communities and creating serious economic uncertainty for farmers," Martin said in a news release. “Now more than ever, rural Minnesotans need a fighter like Collin Peterson in their corner.”
But Fischbach disputed that point in an interview with Forum News Service Tuesday morning. She said farmers, who make up a key constituency in western Minnesota, have said they're willing to be patient and ride out a tough trade fight if Trump can land a better deal.
“They understand that China has been sticking it to the farmers for years," Fischbach said. "And the president has been willing to take them on and trying to get that straightened out and make sure that in the end, there is a fair deal for farmers and China and trade in general."