ST. PAUL, Minn. — Michelle Fischbach celebrated her 55th birthday on Election Day by sending Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., chairman of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, out to pasture.
Fischbach garnered 53.4% of the vote, to Peterson’s 39.9%, with 87% of the precincts reporting. Independent and other votes were at 7%.
Fischbach is the former Minnesota lieutenant governor and two-time president of the Minnesota Senate from Paynesville, Minn., and was heavily endorsed by President Donald Trump, who won the district by 30 percentage points. She announced her victory just before midnight Tuesday among supporters at the Little Crow Country Club at Spicer, Minn. She said her victory would make “national news,” that she’d “pull up my bootstraps” and work hard, and would “make sure conservative views are represented” in Washington, D.C.
Counties along the east edge of the district favored Fischbach with 60% of the vote.
A champion of dairy farmers, Peterson apparently suffered his biggest loss in dairy bastion Stearns County, where incomplete counts were showing 67.8% went for Fischbach. A champion of help for the hog industry and federal aid in the COVID-19 crisis in processing plants, Peterson lost to the challenger’s 64.7% in pork bastion Pipestone County. A champion of corn ethanol production, he lost to her 61% in Sibley, Minn., home of Heartland Corn Products at Winthrop — the state’s fourth-largest ethanol plant.
A particular champion of sugar beets, Peterson failed even to win some signature beet-dependent counties. He lost by 10 percentage points in Renville County and by 2 percentage points in Wilkin County. In the northern Red River Valley, he lost by nearly 5 points in Polk County, and by 14 points in Marshall County — all heavily agricultural and important beet counties.
In fact, Peterson won only five counties, with his best showing in Norman (57.5%), Clay (56%) and Mahnomen (54%). In a statement Wednesday morning, Peterson said, “I’d like to thank the people of the Seventh District for their support over the years. Serving them in Washington, D.C., has been a great honor, and I respect their decision to move in a different direction.”
“We ran a strong and positive campaign, but with the president winning this district by 30 points again, and the millions in outside money that was spent to attack me, the partisan tilt of this district was just too much to overcome.”
Peterson has held the post since 1991. He told Agweek he’d planned to step away from the seat until a group of farmers asked him to continue. He said he’d run again, but he needed their full support. That initially came with the formation and support of a Super PAC, led by sugar leaders in the northern Red River Valley.
Peterson and Fischbach both raised about $2.2 million, according to a report by the website OpenSecrets.org. Peterson spent about $1.8 million, to Fischbach’s $1.7 million, as of Oct. 14, with about $974,000 on hand, versus her $500,000.
Sugar support was unprecedented in the race.
Kurt Wickstrom, president and CEO of the Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton but a resident of Minnesota, on Oct. 28 started appearing in pro-Peterson campaign advertisements, noting that Peterson had been vital in getting disaster relief after the untimely early snow and freeze events in the 2019 harvest. In 2019, about 30% of the anticipated crop volume was left in the field for Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative, based in Wahpeton, N.D., but with significant production in Minnesota. The same was true for American Crystal Sugar Co., based in Moorhead, Minn.
It isn’t clear whether sugar support or regional interests within the district or within agriculture had an effect.
Wickstrom, whose co-op does not endorse candidates, said directly that many of his co-op’s 450 jobs remained because of Peterson.
“A lot of these jobs might not be here if it wasn’t for Collin Peterson,” Wickstrom said, adding, emphatically, “If he wasn’t ag chairman, we would have lost this co-op and these jobs.”
Wickstrom added that “Minnesota has waited decades for a chairman, for someone with his clout. Now that we have one, why would we EVER give him up?”
For her part, Fischbach didn’t receive ag group endorsement, but showcased support from key Republican legislators in her district, most notably state Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Finance Committee, who lost to Peterson in 2014. In his campaign ad, Westrom said Fischbach would “fight for our farmers and our rural communities” and as president of the Senate had fought against “burdensome regulation” and excessive taxes.