ST. PAUL — Republicans vying to unseat U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson took swipes at the incumbent, but also at one another days before voters are set to determine who will emerge as the GOP-nominated candidate.
In a virtual Farmfest discussion on Wednesday, Aug. 5, Republicans Dave Hughes and Noel Collis tried to separate themselves from GOP-endorsed candidate Michelle Fischbach and paint themselves as more suitable candidates for the district.
All three of the Republicans also tried to highlight three-decade incumbent Peterson's ties to the Democratic Party and said they could be a better voice for farmers and for the district in Washington.
Peterson, who chairs the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, defended his work on the 2018 Farm Bill, ratification of the USMCA and efforts to pass the HEROES Act which is set to include additional support payments for producers.
And in a separate virtual dialogue, candidates from south and central Minnesota split on support for the Trump administration's approach to managing trade policy, the pandemic and more.
Conversations took on a different, choppy tone as candidates called in from their homes or offices for a virtual forum, rather than a typical Farmfest debate on a stage in Redwood Falls. The usual back-and-forth of an in-person debate was lost to the technology.
The 7th District candidates — along with U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, a Republican representing the 8th Congressional District, and Democratic challenger Quinn Nystrom — agreed on many points during the discussion, including their support for the construction of a replacement Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota, need for additional economic support for farmers and ranchers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to build out broadband. Nystrom noted additional tribal consultation is needed for the pipeline project.
But they split on the best ways to help producers recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, ensure farmers maintain access to ag land and increase access to new markets. And they used the broadcast discussion to tout their candidacies ahead of the Tuesday, Aug. 11, primary elections.
Hughes, a Republican who has twice challenged Peterson but came up short, said he would have the best chance at unseating Peterson in November.
"Michelle Fischbach is really the same thing as Collin, they're both career politicians and Collin has tried his best, but I can win in November and I'm the only one who can win in November," Hughes said. "I'm also not subject to the swamp."
Throughout the discussion, Fischbach maintained her focus on Peterson and she pointed to areas where she would serve the district's agricultural sector differently. She also noted her opposition to Gov. Tim Walz's orders closing down sectors of the state to limit the spread of COVID-19.
"I believe in working with other people but not when it's at the cost of rural Minnesota," Fischbach said. “I want to go to Washington and I want to fight for the 7th District and I want to fight for our way of life."
Peterson touted his record of working on a bipartisan basis in Washington and said he would continue to do so if re-elected. Peterson faces two primary challengers, Stephen Emery and Alycia Gruenhagen, in the DFL primary.
"All of us that are involved in politics need to take the approach that we’ve got to listen to the other side, how to understand the other person’s point of view and to try to figure out how it is we can come up with something where everybody can live with it," Peterson said, "everybody can win."
Head-to-head discussion illustrates likely campaign themes
Representatives from the 1st, 2nd and 6th Congressional Districts as well as their challengers also met in a separate virtual discussion Wednesday, taking on several similar questions related to agriculture.
And the conversation with more candidates set to bypass a primary challenge or expected to survive one gave a preview of likely campaign themes set to emerge in the coming months.
Democrats jabbed the Trump administration for its support of small refinery waivers at the cost of ethanol producers and its trade deals with China, as well as its lack of a uniform strategy to combat COVID-19.
"Farmers are business owners, they need stability and they need to know what the future holds and they need leaders that are more interested in results than partisanship," said Democrat Dan Feehan, who is running in the 1st District.
For Republicans, keys were voicing support for the Trump administration's record on rolling back regulations and raising concerns about the passage of a Green New Deal or other regulations in Washington.
"Our farmers are overregulated, especially when it comes to fertilizer, when it comes to water on their land and now we're talking about putting regulations on their livestock and their flatulence, it's just getting insane," said Tyler Kistner, a Republican running in the 2nd Congressional District.
Rep. Angie Craig, D-MN2, said she doesn't support the Green New Deal and hoped to keep the contest focused on her voting record.
"These are national talking points," Craig said, "these are a desire to be running against somebody else because that's not me."