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Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., tells members of the media about the behind-the-scenes work in getting the 2018 Farm Bill passed through Congress. (Trevor Peterson/AgweekTV)

New rural PAC starts ads supporting Collin Peterson

MOORHEAD, Minn. — Radio campaign advertisements paid for by a new super political action committee led by sugar advocates started running Thursday, Oct. 10, in western Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District supporting Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson.

The ads are paid for by the Committee for Stronger Rural Communities, a political action committee announced in August and chaired by farmer Kelly Erickson of Hallock, Minn., a board member for American Crystal Sugar, Co., a farmer-owned cooperative based in Moorhead.

Peterson in June told Forum News Service he would announce his plan for a run for a 16th term in January or February 2020. He is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and has served as the ranking Democrat.

"The election is a long way off," Erickson said. "To start running now is quite unprecedented. Politics has changed in America."

The super PAC's advertisements started playing on the day that President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence visited Minneapolis in an attempt to swing the state red in 2020.

Erickson said the timing of the advertising was planned earlier and was a coincidence. Nearly 61% of 7th District voters supported Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016, when Peterson garnered 52%.

Erickson says the super PAC is attempting to raise $1 million but says the most recent total may be approaching $400,000. Fund-raising was slowed during summer due to congressional schedules.

Super PAC advertisements are not authorized by Peterson's re-election campaign. They emphasize Peterson's growing up on a Minnesota farm, starting a business, and having "no time for partisan politics, just getting things done."

He's 'independent'

The ad also emphasizes Peterson's "strong independent streak" and standing up for "Minnesota families and businesses" as well as his Second Amendment and hunting and fishing credentials. They emphasize his "working with both parties" on health matters, including faster development of generic drugs.

Erickson said Peterson's support of the sugar industry is very strong. Western Minnesota includes shareholders of three major cooperatives — American Crystal, with farmer-owned factories in the Red River Valley, as well as growers for Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative in Wahpeton, N.D., and shareholders of the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative at Renville, Minn.

For now, the super PAC is emphasizing Peterson's advocacy of "stronger rural communities" in general.

"It is a large rural district. As far as emphasis on sugar, Collin Peterson has always been a supporter of sugar," Erickson said.

A super PAC is a type of political action committee that is legally permitted to raise and spend larger amounts of money than the amounts allowed for a conventional PAC. It is an independent PAC that can accept unlimited contributions from individuals and organizations (such as corporations and labor unions) and spend unlimited amounts in support of a candidate but that cannot directly contribute money to or work directly in concert with the candidate it is supporting.

Five to one

Peterson so far has five Republican announced challengers. They'll compete in a primary election on Aug. 11, 2020.

In August, David Hughes of Karlstad, Minn., a retired Air Force major who trains U.S. Customs and Border Protection pilots, announced another challenge. Hughes ran against Peterson in 2016 and 2018, when Peterson won with 52% of the vote.

On Sept. 2, Michelle Fischbach, announced for the role. A lawyer and six-time state senator from Paynesville, Minn., she was president of the Minnesota Senate, and ascended to the lieutenant governor role when then-Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, appointed Tina Smith to the U.S. Senate when Al Franken resigned.

Fischbach spoke at an anti-impeachment rally at Peterson's offices in Detroit Lakes on Oct. 4, even though Peterson has said he is against impeachment because he knows it will be stopped in the Senate. (Fischbach's husband, Scott, since 2001 has been executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. Peterson is rated 100% by the National Right to Life Committee.)

Attempts to contact the Hughes and Fischbach campaigns for comment were not immediately successful.

Other Republican candidates are Dr. Noel Collis, a gastroenterologist from Albany, Minn., who ran for the post in 1992; Joel Novak, a lawyer and Army veteran from Alexandria, Minn., and Jayesun Sherman, a teacher and pastor from Windom, Minn.