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GOP sets sights on Peterson

Minnesota Deputy GOP Chairman Michael Brodkorb tells reporters Wednesday that beginning today, the party will air anti-Collin Peterson radio commercials. Tribune photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Western Minnesota's 2010 congressional race is under way, even without candidates.

The state Republican Party launches a radio ad campaign against Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson today, saying the 10-term congressman is out of touch with his district.

With Republicans assuming he will run again, it is the fist volley of a campaign in which Republicans promise to unseat Peterson.

A comment by Peterson claiming a quarter of his constituents link the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to the Bush administration is invigorating Republicans in the district that stretches from near Canada almost down to Iowa.

"You take down a building one brick at a time," said Peterson's 2006 opponent, Michael Barrett. "This in and of itself is not going to severely damage him. ... I think it will be a combination of things. It is never too soon to get started."

Barrett, who lost by more than 40 percentage points and said health issues keep him from running again, has received 35 to 40 e-mails from people upset over Peterson's comment.

Deputy GOP Chairman Michael Brodkorb said the issue will stick to Peterson.

"Collin Peterson is going to find himself going forward in the eye of a storm," Brodkorb said.

More than a dozen western Minnesota radio stations will carry the commercial saying that Peterson's votes do not fit with his agriculture-dominated district, as well as criticizing his terrorist comment.

Peterson said political extremists like those who believe in the terrorist-government connection can take over public meetings, giving that as a reason he does not hold general town hall meetings.

"Really, Collin, 25 percent of your constituents are so out of touch they believe the U.S. government caused 9-11?" the commercial says. "So you won't hold town meetings? They're not out of touch. You are."

Brodkorb said the commercials will cost "five figures," but would not be more specific. He said it would be hard to be in Peterson's 7th Congressional District and not hear the spots, which are scheduled to air into next week, although he left the option open for running them longer.

Peterson, who often returns western Minnesota reporters' calls, responded to a request for an interview with a prepared statement late Wednesday afternoon: "On Monday I apologized for my off-the-cuff remarks on this matter, and I continue to stand by that statement. As for the Republican Party's new ad, I think they can say whatever they want. I'm guessing that my constituents are more interested in cutting the deficit and getting spending under control, and getting a health care bill that works for them and that we can afford."

Peterson is one of many members of Congress who have complained that people with extreme views have hijacked town hall meetings so others cannot express opinions or ask questions.

The Washington-based Politico Web site quoted Peterson as saying: "Twenty-five percent of my people believe the Pentagon and (then-Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld were responsible for taking the twin towers down. That's why I don't do town meetings."

Peterson said he conducts forums on specific topics to prevent extremists from taking over meetings.

The GOP commercial criticizes Peterson's votes on several issues, saying they do not match the will of people in his district.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.