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In a Minnesota congressional race, the road to 2018 already has begun

Dave Hughes of Karlstad, Minn., was the endorsed Republican candidate running against Democratic incumbent Collin Peterson in the 2016 Minnesota 7th District Congressional race. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

The 2016 election is just barely over, but David Hughes, a Karlstad, Minn., Republican, said his bid for Congress is just getting started—again.

Hughes, who works for General Atomics at Grand Forks Air Force Base, is a former Air Force officer who campaigned for Minnesota's seventh congressional district, which includes much of the western half of the state. His conservative platform—and what he calls the "Trump bump"—won him about 47.4 percent of the vote. Incumbent Democrat Collin Peterson received nearly 52.5 percent.

Hughes said he already is campaigning on social media, making appearances at agricultural expos and soon will head to Washington, D.C., to seek the support of Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture.

"I filed right after the election," Hughes said. "I did myself no favor by starting so late. The experience was the sooner the better."

GOP strength

Hughes' performance comes after multiple election cycles showing a strong preference for Republican presidential candidates in the seventh district. Peterson's five-point victory over Hughes is the narrowest the longtime congressman has faced since 1994. That year, a 2.6-point victory and the so-called "Republican Revolution" in Congress protected his seat.

Kathryn Pearson, an associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, said those trends indicate Peterson could be vulnerable to the right challenger in 2018 — though she said the strongest challengers appear to be waiting until Peterson decides to retire, when the district likely will turn red.

Pearson said the fact Peterson has kept his post despite his district voting Republican on recent presidential tickets speaks to his constituents' interest in things such as his high-ranking position on the Agriculture Committee and a pro-life stance on abortion.

"Democrats have lost dozens of seats (in recent cycles), and the most vulnerable Democrats tend to be those who represented the most Republican districts," Pearson said. "Peterson is one of them, but he has, to the extent he's needed to, protected himself by voting against the party often and really focusing on agriculture issues."

Narrow margin

But she added it's important to consider Peterson's victory in context.

"For Peterson, in general, it's a narrow margin," she said of November's results. "On the other hand, it's actually remarkable that he won by five points given that Trump beat Clinton (in the district) by 30 points."

Peterson's staff did not return requests for comment.

Hughes is decisively right of center on many issues. His campaign website indicates he supports constitutional amendments that would balance the federal budget, create congressional term limits and end abortion. It also states he supports the repeal of the 16th and 17th amendments, which permit income taxes and the direct election of senators, respectively. Peterson also has said he disagrees with the concept of federal judicial review.

It's still not clear who will represent Republicans on the November 2018 ballot, let alone win the seat, but Hughes hopes it will be him.

"I got so many requests from so many in the campaign last year," Hughes said. "(They said) 'if you're not successful, run again next year.'"

Sam Easter

Sam Easter is a City Government reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. You can reach him with story tips, comments and ideas at 701-330-3441.

(701) 780-1108
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