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Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson: 'I'm not sure that I want to win'

Congressman Collin Peterson almost always waits until the last minute to announce whether he's running again, and some -- mainly his Democratic competition -- are tired of it.

Congressman Collin Peterson almost always waits until the last minute to announce whether he's running again, and some -- mainly his Democratic competition -- are tired of it. Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

DFL U.S Rep. Collin Peterson likes to keep things kind of mysterious.

The Blue Dog Democrat has held onto his rural, conservative western Minnesota district for decades, mainly by blatantly acting like a Republican. He’s got an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association; he’s voted against the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), the Violence Against Women Act, and President Donald Trump’s impeachment proceedings; and he is avowedly pro-life -- to the point where he’s supported letting the Supreme Court “reconsider” landmark decisions like Roe v. Wade.

Now more than halfway through his 15th term in Congress, Peterson’s sending mixed signals about whether he's running again. Agriculture news outlet AgriPulse reported last week he might decide after the March 3 primaries, though he technically doesn’t have to until candidate filing closes in June.

“I know I can win," Peterson said. "That’s not the issue. That’s the problem. I’m not sure that I want to win.”

If you've followed Peterson’s career, you’ve probably seen this two-step before. "I tell people I'm running until I'm not," Peterson told Agri-Pulse. 

“Peterson traditionally waits until early in an election year to announce his campaign,” the Associated Press wrote in November, and likes to keep folks guessing until then. At the time, he said he’d decide in “January or February” whether to run for reelection. January's gone, February is almost over, and Peterson's constituents are still waiting on his decision.

That poses a bit of a challenge for DFLers in the 7th Congressional District. Lon Enberg, treasurer of the 7th CD DFL, says the party's used to taking Peterson’s indecision in stride.

“We count on somebody stepping up,” he says, noting whoever that person is would “definitely be someone more progressive than Collin.”

Thaddeus Laugisch, a Democrat from Moorhead, has already filed a candidacy for the seat. Laugisch is a glass artist and a safety director for an agricultural general contractor, and volunteered for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.

As a constituent, he finds Peterson’s tendency to delay kind of “aggravating.” As a candidate, he finds it “nerve-wracking.”

“I just wish he wouldn’t be playing this game,” he says.

Enberg's right about Peterson's challenge coming from the left: Laugisch has several key points of contention with the incumbent, including supporting the Affordable Care Act (he’d like to see a single-payer system one day), reproductive rights, and mandatory background checks for purchasing guns.

Those might be a strike against him in Peterson’s conservative district. Whoever gets the nomination, Enberg says, will have to get “a lot of votes from Republicans” to win the seat. Laugisch says he thinks he can win over some conservative voters, especially on education, where he wants to see less emphasis on standardized testing and more on critical thinking and career options.

He says his views on agriculture are similar to Peterson’s, which have brought the representative a lot of clout in Washington.

Whether Peterson's in or not, the local Republican Party seems to sense blood in the water. Peterson's already racked up five challengers on that side, including Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville), former president of the Senate and current member of the "Conservative Squad," as annointed by Fox News