The National Republican Congressional Committee has a list of 17 Dem House incumbents that it hopes to push into retirement and Minnesota’s Collin Peterson is on the list. This strikes me as highly unlikely but here’s the rationale, according to the always friendly and helpful Tom Erickson, spokester for the NRCC in our region (and former Norm Coleman spokester).
Despite being a committee chair (Agriculture), which means he could raise big money if he wanted to, Peterson has not been fund-raising aggressively, spent more than he took in last quarter and much of what he did raise, he distributed to other Dems. Erickson says this behavior sometimes signals a member who is thinking of retiring.
The mostly rural and agricultural Western Minnesota 7th District leans Republican and has voted for the Repub candidate for prez in most recent elections including McCain in 2008. Peterson committed an embarrassing gaffe a few months ago when he suggested that he doesn’t like holding town meetings because many of his constituents are conspiracy nuts. (The quote was: “”25 percent of my people believe the Pentagon and Rumsfeld were responsible for taking the twin towers down; that’s why I don’t do town meetings.”)
If Peterson, who is 65 and in his 10th term, wanted to leave Congress for a high-paying Washington job, he would probably get the best deal when the Dems are in power, as they are now, Erickson also noted. And Peterson has not said that he plans to seek another term.
(That was true, so far as I could tell when I posted this piece this a.m. But since then, I have spoken to Peterson’s chief of staff, Mark Brownell who informs that the congressman definitely is seeking another term.)
Now for a few contrary facts that the Repubs won’t want to emphasize. Peterson is a virtual lock for reelection. No Repub challenger has held Peterson under 65 percent of the vote since 1994! It’s quite likely Peterson isn’t doing much fund-raising because he doesn’t expect to need the dough.
It’s true that a liberal Dem might be vulnerable in the moderate/conservative 7th, but Peterson is the bluest of Blue Dogs (he was actually a founding member of the Blue Dog coalition). He voted against the House version of the health care bill and even against Obama’s stimulus package (one of only seven Dems to vote no on that one).
No Republican has even publicly announced an interest in running for the seat in 2010. (Erickson said he knows of some who are seriously considering it but not ready to have their names mentioned publicly).
Even the reason that Peterson was put on the RNCC list in the first place — that his district was carried by McCain — is a weak one. McCain won by only 50-47 over Obama. The list includes seven Dems whose district gave more than 55% to McCain.
Erickson actually conceded most of the points above when we spoke. He clarified that he isn’t really arguing that Peterson couldn’t be reelected. The RNCC initiative, described in more detail in this Hotline piece, seems to be mostly a matter of putting out nasty press releases against the targets to give them the feeling that the Repubs will show them an unplesant experience if they run.
At the moment, it seems overwhelmingly likely that the GOP will pick up some seats in 2010 that are now held by Dems in red districts. But, unless Collin Peterson is tired of being a congressman (and a committee chair!), I don’t expect his seat to be one of them.