“Yeah, I'm running. I’ve got 700 grand in the bank,” Peterson said outside the House chamber Wednesday afternoon.
The ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, Peterson is one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, and he represents an agriculture-heavy 7th District that would likely flip to the Republicans if he ever called it quits. President Donald Trump carried the district by 31 points last fall, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections.
Democrats need to gain 24 seats in the House next year to win a majority, so they can't afford to lose any of the seats they currently hold.
Another Democrat-held seat that Trump won by a similar margin could become open if 8th District Rep. Rick Nolan joins the DFL gubernatorial field. Before recess, Nolan had said he’d hoped to make a decision by the end of the month, but he said Wednesday he’s extending his timeline for a decision.
Peterson has backed Walz for governor. He told Nolan on Wednesday that even if the 8th District congressman got in the race, he's sticking with Walz. “He just fits, he’s the right profile,” Peterson said of Walz, citing his age, military experience and teaching background.
In the end, Peterson said he’d be surprised if Nolan went through with a gubernatorial bid. “I don’t know how serious he is about this,” Peterson said. Fellow Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, a liberal on the opposite end of the party spectrum from Peterson, recently predicted Walz will be the next governor.
If Nolan runs for re-election in the 8th District, which has been among the most expensive House races in the country two cycles in a row, he’ll likely face a competitive race.
But so could Peterson.
Speaking at a fish fry for Nolan’s re-election campaign last fall, the Blue Dog Democrat joked about how little money his GOP opponent had raised. “I’m campaigning hard, and I might make it,” Peterson told the crowd.
But election night told a different story. Peterson ended up winning by just 5 points, defeating a Republican who received no national assistance and had about $3,000 in cash on hand before the election.
That same Republican, Dave Hughes, looks to be running again. He filed with the Federal Election Commission and raised about $475, supplemented by a $1,000 personal loan, during the first quarter. Peterson raised $171,000 during the first quarter. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 7th District contest Leans Democratic.
But that narrow re-election last fall has earned Peterson a spot on the National Republican Congressional Committee’s target list for 2018. GOP groups spent millions trying to knock out Peterson in 2014. He ended up defeating his Republican opponent by about 9 points, and the attacks, he has said, emboldened him to run again in 2016.
“I’m just ignoring them,” Peterson said on Wednesday when asked about Republican efforts to target him again. “It doesn’t make any difference what they do,” he said, chuckling.
Because of some of his more conservative positions, Peterson is not as easy to tie to the national Democratic Party as some incumbents. He’s one of the last remaining Democrats in the House who voted against the 2010 health care law. But he doesn’t think the plans currently pushed by House Republicans are any better. “It’s not going to work,” he said. “It’ll make it worse.” He’d rather see Minnesota be exempt from the 2010 law, which he’s spoken to Republicans and the White House about as recently as three weeks ago. “They seemed interested,” he said.
“I have zero confidence in the federal government — whoever controls it — getting this right. Zero,” he said Wedneday.
As both Walz and Nolan have argued when making a case for the DFL’s ability to hold their congressional seats without them, Peterson thinks 2018 will be a strong year for his party.
“This next election is going to be a good election for us,” he said.
But will it be his last?
“Who knows? I thought the last one was the last,” Peterson said. “But I’m still, I think, doing some good, still enjoying it, so I’ll keep plugging away.”