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Published October 09, 2008, 12:00 AM

As House Ag Committee chairman, Collin Peterson has his hands full

Collin Peterson has hit the big time in Washington, but back home, well, he has a problem.

By: Don Davis, St. Paul Bureau, DL-Online

Collin Peterson

Party: Democratic

Age: 64

Home: Detroit Lakes

Occupation: Accountant

Political experience: State senator three terms. Congressman nine terms

Education: Minnesota State University Moorhead

Family: Divorced. Three children

ST. PAUL – Collin Peterson has hit the big time in Washington, but back home, well, he has a problem.

"The biggest problem I have is people who ... want to make sure I am running," he said.

The nine-term incumbent certainly is running again. And this time he is running with a title he could not claim in other races – U.S. House Agriculture Committee chairman.

Democrat Peterson and Republican Glen Menze face a rematch of the 2000 7th Congressional District race that even Menze said will be harder for him to win this time around. Peterson is used to winning with 60 percent to 70 percent of the vote.

Peterson has been a dominate force in western Minnesota politics and does not sound worried about Menze. A month before the election, Peterson still was considering how much he would spend from his $650,000 campaign fund, and where it would go.

Peterson and Menze both say they would like campaign finance reform, much like the largely state-funded Minnesota legislative campaigns. However, Peterson said, southern congressmen prevent such a change in Washington.

The current system works for Peterson. As a committee chairman he has little trouble raising money, receiving enough to donate thousands to other Democratic candidates.

"There is no question, incumbents have the advantage because you are better known and your record is known and you attract money from people who agree with your philosophy," he said.

Menze and other Republicans like to portray Peterson as a supporter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a San Francisco liberal.

Peterson said he has Pelosi's ear, although often not her vote. He said the speaker allows him to bring up agriculture-oriented bills and other measures, even when she does not like them.

"She is liberal, no question about it," he said. "And she and I don't agree on much. But she and I found a way to work together."

Menze complained that Peterson does little work beyond agriculture issues. The rural district is more than just farms, he said.

Peterson admitted he spends most of his time in his Agriculture Committee office instead of his Washington congressional district office. However, he said, his work on non-agriculture issues remains behind the scenes so other chairmen don't see him as treading on their turf. A chairman-to-chairman conversation actually helps his district, the veteran congressman said.

"I work behind the scenes with my guys in the Blue Dogs," he said of a conservative Democratic group of House members. "It is just a different nuisance."

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