ST. PAUL — President Donald Trump is set to rally in Minneapolis Thursday, Oct. 10, in an early effort to flip the state red in 2020. And on the opposite side of the state, Republicans hope the visit will help jumpstart their efforts to unseat Democrats down the ballot.
At the top of regional and national GOP leaders' list is Minnesota's District 7, which spans nearly the entire western border of the state, covering swaths of rural areas punctuated by Moorhead, Fergus Falls, Alexandria and Willmar. Republicans are aiming to take out veteran congressman U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a center-left Democrat who has served the district since 1991.
Minnesota Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan called the district "one of the top flip opportunities in the entire country" for Republicans.
The district in 2016 voted for Trump by a 30-point margin over former-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and each of the district's 38 total counties individually voted for Trump — including eight "pivot counties," which voted for Trump after having voted for President Barack Obama in 2012.
Peterson, challenged by Republican candidate Dave Hughes in 2018, held onto his seat by a 4% margin. But with 2020's presidential campaign reinvigorating the district's conservatives, Carnahan said, "If there’s a year for us to flip this seat, its 2020."
Hughes is taking another shot at Peterson's seat in 2020, as are Republican candidates Noel Collis, Joel Novak, Jayeson Sherman and most notably, former Minnesota Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach. Soon after Fischbach threw her hat into the ring political forecasters like the Cook Political Report and Sabato's Crystal Ball changed their ratings on the race from "leans left" to "tossup."
Democrats say Peterson has found a niche for himself, frequently bucking party-line trends in favor of prioritizing the district's values. And if he chooses to run again, that could help him hold the seat in 2020.
Ken Martin, chair of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, said Peterson is "one of those politicians who puts his oath to the people he represents ahead of his party."
"That’s one of the reasons that for so many years he’s survived in a very Republican district," Martin said. "There’s a reason that Collin has been successful out there and part of it has been always voting for the people he represents and representing their interests, not the party’s interests.”
But House Democrats' impeachment inquiry could complicate Peterson's report card, at least in the eyes of his constituents. Peterson has opposed impeaching Trump, saying it would further divide the country and block other bipartisan efforts from advancing. But last month, he voted against a Republican resolution calling for Democrats to drop the inquiry.
After the vote, Fischbach released a statement saying, "Despite western Minnesota wanting nothing to do with impeachment, Collin Peterson joined the rest of the socialist Democrats and voted to support Speaker Pelosi's impeachment inquiry of President Trump."
"Peterson promised to get things done for the American people, like securing our borders and passing the USMCA, but instead he’s pushing for baseless impeachment and stalling President Trump’s agenda," she said.
With Trump's Thursday visit quickly approaching and the race heating up, the Republican Party is bringing in the big guns: On Oct. 3, the National Republican Congressional Committee dropped a campaign ad dubbing Peterson "Cranky Collin," and funded digital ads highlighting his photo against a resolution opposing an impeachment inquiry into Trump.
Peterson, who was unavailable for comment, has not officially announced a 2020 campaign. He has previously said he will decide whether or not to run for reelection early next year.