Peterson-Fischbach race stands out in House contests

It is the headline race in Congress for food and agriculture policy given that the committee chairmanship is at stake.

If there were a toss-up caucus of U.S. representatives in the tightest races, House Agriculture chairman Collin Peterson could be its premier member. The Blue Dog Democrat from western Minnesota is running for re-election against a well-financed Republican, former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach, in a district that that voted for President Trump in a landslide in 2016.

It is the headline race in Congress for food and agriculture policy given that the committee chairmanship is at stake. Peterson is a strong supporter of traditional farm subsidies and fought Republican attempts to slash SNAP enrollment in the 2018 farm bill. Democrats are expected to retain control of the House.

Four other members of the House Agriculture Committee — Democrats T.J. Cox of California and Anthony Brindisi of New York State, and Republicans Dan Bacon of Nebraska and Jim Hagedorn of Minnesota — are among 17 toss-up House races across the nation as listed by the political newsletter Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst is the most imperiled of seven Senate Agriculture Committee members, followed by appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia. Both are Republicans.

“Ernst is looking increasingly like an underdog against her Democratic challenger, Theresa Greenfield,” said the Crystal Ball last week, in rating the race as “leans Democratic.” A business executive, Greenfield has the edge in opinion polls; Ernst flubbed a question about soybean prices during a digital debate. Loeffler needs to finish in the top two of the 21 candidates in the “jungle” special election on Nov. 3 to move to a runoff election on Jan. 5. At present, she and Rep. Doug Collins trail Democrat Raphael Warnock in polling.

Peterson, who describes himself as a commonsense legislator, voted against the impeachment of President Trump last December, calling it “a mistake and the Senate will make short work of an acquittal.” Early this month, he voted against the trimmed-down $2.2-trillion coronavirus bill that Democrats presented as a bargaining chip with the Trump administration.

“I’ve always worked hard to break through partisan bickering and find common ground on issues that are important to our country,” said Peterson on his campaign website.

Fischbach, who was endorsed by Trump, was recruited by party leaders frustrated by narrow losses to Peterson in a district that increasingly has trended Republican. She has raised more money than Peterson and is expected to benefit from Trump’s presence on the ticket. Minnesota is a battleground state and the Trump campaign is focused on turning out rural voters, a key to his 2016 victory.

On her campaign website, Fischbach describes herself as “a trailblazer and a proven conservative leader,” based on her record as lieutenant governor, the first woman to serve as president of the Minnesota state Senate and 22 years as state senator. Peterson was a state senator for 10 years before election to the U.S. House in 1990.

Farm groups stuck with Peterson in the race against Fischbach despite the often-conservative views of their members, because of his prominence on farm legislation.

“While Fischbach is supportive of agriculture, the sector will be collectively spending millions of dollars to keep Peterson in office (and her out of it),” reported MinnPost last month. “Peterson has the endorsement of Minnesota Farm Bureau’s PAC, which he’s earned every election cycle since 2008, and the bulk of his campaign contributions come from companies and cooperatives, many of which represent different industries in the agriculture sector.”

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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