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7th District Congressional race favors incumbent
By Bob Reha
Minnesota Public Radio
October 30, 2002


For the past 12 years, DFLer Collin Peterson has represented the 7th Congressional District. The rural area stretches from the Canadian border north of Moorhead to southwest Minnesota. This is the first election since the district's boundaries were redrawn earlier this year. Peterson is being challenged by Republican State Sen. Dan Stevens.

Collin Peterson and Dan Stevens
Rep. Collin Peterson, left, and challenger Dan Stevens, right, meet prior to a broadcast debate. See larger image.
(MPR Photo/Bob Reha)

The 7th Congressional District is larger than some eastern seaboard states. Like the rest of Minnesota's congressional districts, the 7th District has new boundaries that were created earlier this year. For some incumbents, re-districting can be a problem, but observers say it's unlikely to hurt DFLer Collin Peterson.

"It didn't hurt him at all, particularly losing Stearns County, because that was a heavier Republican area," says Jim Danielson, a political scientist at Minnesota State University-Moorhead. "Although he runs well with Republicans anyway."

The new boundaries of the 7th District include a chunk of southwest Minnesota. Danielson says although that's new territory, it may benefit Peterson.

"In that agrarian area of the state, Collin Peterson was already reasonably well known and respected by many people in the agricultural industry," says Danielson. "They'd been before congressional committees that he was on, and he had been a champion for some of their causes."

Peterson is being challenged by State Sen. Dan Stevens, R-Mora. Danielson says not many people in the district know Stevens. Stevens says he's conducting a grass-roots door to door campaign, and has also been running radio ads. The ads attack Peterson for not spending enough time in the district, and for being too liberal for its voters. The tactic has angered Peterson.

"People that I talked to thought that the ad was ridiculous, because for years I've been traveling this district and people know that," says Peterson. "Maybe the problem is that my opponent hasn't lived here, and he doesn't know whats going on in the 7th District."

Stevens lives in Mora, Minn., which is outside the 7th District, although he has rented a house in the district. There's nothing illegal about running for Congress in a district where you don't live, but Peterson's ads criticize Stevens for doing it.

Stevens says voters should make their choice based on his record, not on where he lives.

"The point is I've never, ever -- despite how remote the odds -- been afraid to introduce a bill and carry that bill thru the system," says Stevens. "I make the request for hearings, do the press conferences, get out and do the heavy heavy work to get it done, and that's what I've been doing."

Peterson and Stevens have met in a handful of debates, which have generated heated exchanges about Peterson's voting record. Recently the two exchanged jabs during a debate on MPR stations in Moorhead and Bemidji.

"We looked at your record, Collin. There's an equal amount of time that you voted for the death tax repeal and against it," said Stevens.

"That's not true," Peterson replied. "And I didn't vote for the '93 tax increase that you claim I did either."

The race has generated little outside interest. No big name national figures have come to the district for either candidate. Political analyst Jim Danielson says if Peterson does well in traditionally strong Republican areas, he should have little trouble winning the election.

"Peterson should be doing reasonably well in Clay County, which is a fairly ... Republican county," says Danielson. "And if Peterson is not doing reasonably well in Clay County, then you might say, 'What's going on here?' It's going to be a lot closer than we expected."

Peterson says he's confident he's shown voters in the 7th District he's done a good job and deserves another term. Stevens says he's not conceding the race, and believes he still has a chance to pull off an upset.

More from MPR
  • Audio: 7th District debate Held on Oct. 25,2002
  • Campaign 2002: The 7th District