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Republicans face uphill battle in the 7th
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Political observers say Collin Peterson is a formidable incumbent who appears headed for easy re-election. (MPR photo/Dan Gunderson)
In Minnesota's 7th Congressional District, Republicans face an uphill struggle as they try to unseat incumbent Collin Peterson. Peterson is seeking his 8th term in the U.S. House. His challenger is David Sturrock, a Southwest State University political science professor from Marshall.

Moorhead, Minn. — The last close race for the 7th Congressional District seat was in 1994. Congressman Collin Peterson easily won the last four elections.

David Sturrock says this year will be different. The Republican challenger admits it's an uphill battle, but he thinks he has a chance to unseat the incumbent.

However, Sturrock faces a big challenge just to create name recognition. The 7th Congressional District can tax a candidates stamina, and campaign coffers. The district encompasses 35 counties and some 350 towns. It's an eight-hour drive from one end of the district to the other. It's big job just to hit all the parades.

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Image Republican David Sturrock hopes to unseat incumbent Democrat Collin Peterson.

David Sturrock says Congressman Peterson is complacent, and increasingly out of touch with his district.

"This is a region that takes public service seriously. It has high expectations for it's elected officials and I think it has a very keen sense of when it's being taken for granted," says Sturrock. "When you have a seat in Congress you can't treat it like a franchise. You have to go out and earn it anew every two years."

Peterson laughs at the idea he's out of touch with his constituents.

"I've been in more parades than he has this summer and I think I have run into four people in the last four months that know who my opponent is or even if I have one," says Peterson.

Voters in the 7th Congressional District went heavily for Republican George W. Bush for president and Republican Tim Pawlenty for governor in 2002, but they also elected DFLer Collin Peterson to Congress by a wide margin. Peterson says it's a sign the voters in the 7th are independent.

"People will vote for the person. I think they pay attention to your voting record, they pay attention to what you do. If you're doing a good job representing the district and taking positions people in the district are comfortable with, the party label doesn't mean much," says Peterson.

I do not see a race right now, the incumbent is very strong. He's well liked in the district. He knows his district very well in terms of maintaining the conservative ideology. The Republicans have not found someone as yet to challenge him in a serious way.
- Political science professor Barbara Headrick

So far in this years race, the key issue raised by Republican challenger David Sturrock has to do with party labels. Sturrock says Peterson is too liberal for people in the 7th district. Sturrock points to Petersons support for U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a liberal Democrat from California.

"The most important single vote he cast is for Speaker of the House and he has chosen to support Nancy Pelosi and by extension a very liberal approach to cultural issues which is very much at odds with what we believe here in western Minnesota," says Sturrock.

Republican candidates have tried unsuccessfully to portray Congressman Peterson as a liberal in the past several election cycles.

It's a failed strategy, according to Barbara Headrick, Minnesota State University Moorhead political science professor.

"The voters have a sense that they know this person (Peterson). They call him by his first name, and you're always in trouble if you've got an incumbent they call by his first name. They have a very good sense who this person is and they know he's not Nancy Pelosi from very left wing California," says Headrick.

Headrick believes Collin Peterson knows his district, and on key issues, he votes the way most of his constituents believe. Peterson has the support of many conservative groups that usually are key backers of Republican candidates.

Peterson is endorsed by groups opposed to legal abortion, the National Rifle Association, and business groups like the Chamber of Commerce.

There's also a large disparity in campaign cash. Peterson has almost 10 time as much money on hand as challenger David Sturrock.

Barbara Headrick says it all adds up to a very well-positioned, formidable incumbent in the 7th Congressional District.

"I do not see a race right now, the incumbent is very strong. He's well liked in the district. He knows his district very well in terms of maintaining the conservative ideology. The Republicans have not found someone as yet to challenge him in a serious way," says Headrick.

Republican challenger David Sturrock knows it's an uphill battle, but he's hoping for an influx of campaign cash in the next few weeks, and highly motivated Republican voters in November.

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