Second time around for 7th District candidates Hughes and Peterson

WILLMAR -- Two years ago Dave Hughes -- a Republican with very little name recognition and less than $20,000 in campaign money -- came surprisingly close to defeating longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson in the sprawling 7th Congressiona...


WILLMAR - Two years ago Dave Hughes - a Republican with very little name recognition and less than $20,000 in campaign money - came surprisingly close to defeating longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson in the sprawling 7th Congressional District.

This year - with more money and campaign moxie - Hughes said he's even more confident he'll win. He said if President Trump would visit the district to rally for him, he would win by "double digits" over Peterson.

Peterson acknowledges he did not campaign like he should have two years ago in the midst of the "Trump phenomenon" and he will "not take anything for granted" this time around. But in an interview in September, Peterson confided that his internal polling looked very good.

In 2016 Trump won the 7th District by 30 points over Hillary Clinton.

"I do represent the most Republican district in the country held by a Democrat," said Peterson, who has been in Congress for 28 years.


Peterson said he's able to represent the district by working across both sides of the political aisle. He takes pride in having the highest bipartisan legislation score in 2017, based on a study by Georgetown University.

Hughes quickly dismissed Peterson's claims of bipartisanship, saying Peterson only votes with Republicans when he knows a bill will pass or fail with or without his vote.

"It's all a bunch of baloney, this whole maverick, voting against his own party stuff," Hughes said. "He's never been the hero once in 28 years."

Ag & immigration

In the 7th District where agriculture is king, Peterson said his bipartisan nature - and longevity in Congress that has earned him a key role in negotiating a new farm bill - has benefited farmers in the 7th District.

"To have somebody from western Minnesota at the table with the four people who are deciding the farm bill is a very positive thing," Peterson said. "It's why I'm still running. Because I am in a position where I can do some good."

After he retires, or if defeated, Peterson said it will be a long time, "if ever," that the 7th District will have someone with as much influence as he has representing regional agricultural interests in Congress.

Hughes said agriculture is important to the economy and culture in the 7th District, but it's not what voters talk to him about.


Securing borders, immigration reform and refugee settlement programs are the top issues he hears from voters, Hughes said.

While sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Willmar - in clear view of successful immigrant-owned businesses - Hughes questioned if bringing refugees here was worth the risk of crime and terrorism.

Immigration should be "based on the needs and the merits of what's good for American society, not some left-wing notion that we've got to help the world," Hughes said.

With a need for labor in the ag sector, Hughes said he supports an easier path for immigrants who are here on work visas to obtain citizenship. But "dreamers" and those here without documents need to return to their home country and start the process over, he said.

Hughes said he supports building a wall on the U.S. Mexican border and doesn't care who pays for it. "The American people can pay for the wall as far as I'm concerned," he said. "I just want the wall built."

Peterson said he doesn't hear about refugees or the wall from constituents, but he does hear about immigration, especially regarding farm workers here on visas.

Peterson said he is one of two Democrats to co-sponsor a new ag guest-worker program, known as H-2C, that includes use of an electronic verification program to confirm eligibility of workers.



Long-term, Hughes said tariffs are a "loser for everybody."

But he's OK with short-term tariffs and says farmers tell him they're OK with tariffs too, even though they are feeling the economic pain because Trump's tariffs have reduced the demand for and the price of soybeans and other ag products.

Hughes said the $6 billion federal bailout Trump authorized to help offset ag losses will help ease that pain.

Peterson isn't a fan of the tariffs either but said he understands what Trump is trying to do, especially concerning China's stranglehold on American companies.

But Peterson said tariffs restrict the trade upon which agriculture depends.

He said the bailout will not offset the damage that's been done in the market and said the bailout program is a "bad policy" that pits farmers whose commodity isn't eligible for a bailout against farmers who will get payments.

Trump power

Hughes said he likes everything about Trump and could not cite one thing he doesn't like about the president.


"It's not a blind dedication. And it's not an ignorant dedication," Hughes said. "I'm just trying to keep my eye on the ball."

Hughes said he's not troubled by Trump's tweets, his testy relationship with some world leaders or his past lifestyle because, he said, it has nothing to do with the 7th District race.

Peterson said he gets along just fine with Trump and votes to support - or oppose - Trump's proposals based on if it's constitutional and good for the 7th District.

"I disagree with people that say you should go to Washington to support this president or that president," Peterson said. "I'm there to represent my people."

The two candidates have different opinions on how much sway Trump currently has in the district.

Hughes said Trump's popularity in the 7th District is as strong as ever.

"I'm predicting that this blue wave everybody's predicting is going to be non-existent," Hughes said.

So far Hughes hasn't gotten a presidential visit, but he did get a tweet of endorsement from Trump who called Peterson a "Pelosi Liberal Puppet" in that same tweet.


That got a laugh out of Peterson.

People who saw that "kind of rolled their eyes," Peterson said. "One reporter said to me, 'anyone who's even met you for 15 seconds knows that's a bunch of nonsense.'"


Collin Peterson

Age: 74

City: Detroit Lakes

Occupation: Member of Congress



Family: Three children and six grandchildren

Dave Hughes

Age: 43

City: Karlstad

Occupation: Lead flight instructor and active drone pilot with General Atomics, a contractor to U.S. Customs & Border Protection


Family: Wife, Amanda, and seven children

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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