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Kyle Potter and Mike Nowatzki, Published March 17 2014

Peterson to seek 13th term, Sinner aims to take on Cramer in Minnesota, ND congressional races

FARGO – With announcements Monday from Democrats in both states, likely congressional races firmed up for the two seats representing different sides of the river in Fargo-Moorhead.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson announced in a 10 a.m. news conference in Moorhead that he plans to run for a 13th term, an election that will likely pit him against state Sen. Torrey Westrom, an Elbow Lake Republican.

Thirty minutes later, state Sen. George B. Sinner, a Fargo banker and son of a former governor of North Dakota, ended months of speculation by throwing his hat in the ring against U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, a first-term Republican. He’ll kick off his campaign officially Tuesday in Casselton, his hometown.

North Dakota

Sinner will officially announce his candidacy to seek the party’s endorsement at 10 a.m. at Sinner Brothers & Bresnahan, his family’s agribusiness near Casselton, and then again at 3 p.m. at the Bismarck Veterans Memorial Public Library.

“We are very excited that Sen. Sinner has decided to get into this race,” North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party Executive Director Chad Oban said. “It’s going to be an exceptionally competitive race.”

Sinner has been considering a run against Cramer for several months, and he emerged as the frontrunner in the past couple of months, even as he pushed back announcing his decision multiple times. In late October, he told Forum News Service he expected to decide around the end of the year whether he would run for the state’s sole seat in Congress.

Oban said Sinner’s background in business, experience in the Legislature and the fact that he’s not a career politician make him an ideal candidate to challenge Cramer.

Sinner is the senior vice president with American Federal Bank in Fargo and son of former North Dakota Gov. George A. “Bud” Sinner. He was elected to a four-year term in the state Senate in 2012.

North Dakota GOP Executive Director Jason Flohrs said in an emailed statement that Democrats “have been trying to talk a big game for months now, but the truth is, if Sinner or the party were serious about his candidacy, they would have already been hard at work for months on this campaign.

“Instead, he’s limping to the starting line just barely in time for them to get someone’s name on the ballot to keep Congressman Cramer from running unopposed,” he said.

Sinner did not return a message left on his cellphone Monday.

Cramer served nine years on the North Dakota Public Service Commission before being elected to the U.S. House in November 2012, winning the seat left open by one-term Rep. Rick Berg’s unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate. Cramer also was chairman of the North Dakota Republican Party in the early 1990s and served as state tourism director from 1993 to 1997 and as state economic development and finance director from 1997-2000 under former Gov. Ed Schafer.

The Democratic-NPL Party will endorse its slate of candidates at the party’s state convention March 28-30 in Fargo.

Cramer will seek the Republican endorsement at the GOP’s state convention the next weekend in Minot, as will DuWayne Hendrickson of Minot. Libertarian Party candidate Jack Seaman also is running for the House seat.

Minnesota

Peterson had a few things to take care of to prepare for his 13th campaign for Congress: pass a pilot’s physical and get his plane in tip-top shape to fly across northwestern Minnesota.

After months of speculation about retirement and an early move by national Republicans to target the 12-term Democrat, Peterson announced Monday he will run for re-election this year. He said he’s eager to hit the campaign trail – and skies – in his single-engine plane and remains convinced he’s the right fit for his district.

“I go to Washington to represent my district, to represent my people,” he said, flanked by supporters and his 94-year-old father in Moorhead’s Center Mall.

Peterson has represented the sprawling 7th Congressional District, covering much of northwestern Minnesota, since he won the seat in 1990. After a few close races, Peterson has been re-elected by huge margins for the past two decades in one of the most conservative-leaning districts in the state.

The Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index, which scores each congressional district based on its party lean, ranked Minnesota’s 7th District at a plus-six for Republicans for 2014 – second only to the seat now held by Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney won the district by a 54 percent to 44 percent margin in 2012.

That year, Peterson beat Republican challenger Lee Byberg by a 25-point margin.

The National Republican Congressional Committee hit Peterson – and other Democrats in conservative-leaning districts – early with attack ads, painting the Democrat as an out-of-touch politician contributing to a dysfunctional Congress.

Come November, Peterson will likely run against Westrom, an Elbow Lake Republican recruited by the NRCC. Though several other names have floated around as possible candidates, Westrom is the only Republican thus far to officially enter the race.

“Minnesota wants a new voice that will put their interests ahead of Barack Obama’s reckless agenda,” NRCC spokesman Tyler Houlton said in a statement. “Collin Peterson may not be retiring on his own terms, but we have every intention of forcing him into retirement in November.”

Peterson scolded the NRCC for fueling drama about his future, and said he doesn’t think their move to tie him to President Obama will fly in his district.

“They can waste their money, but I don’t think it’s going to work,” he said.

Peterson is one of the few remaining so-called Blue Dogs – a group of Democrats who identify themselves as moderates – and a strong voice on agricultural issues in the Republican-controlled House. He’s the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee.

Peterson said he’s feeling fresh from a much-needed break after a grueling, years-long battle to pass a new farm bill, which was signed into law last month. He needed to “heal up.”

“It was almost a miracle that we got this thing done,” he said.

Peterson said he’s running again in part because he wants to help implement the bill.

He started the year with a big fundraising advantage over Westrom. Peterson ended 2013 with about $358,000 on hand – more than quadruple Westrom’s $84,000 war chest, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

In a statement Monday, Westrom said dysfunction in Congress is “threatening the rural values that me and my neighbors across Minnesota’s Congressional District 7 hold dear.”

“Now that my opponent has decided to seek re-election, after decades in Washington, I eagerly look forward to the upcoming, spirited debate about the future direction of this country,” Westrom said.

Peterson said he makes his campaign decisions in two-year intervals, and is only looking ahead to the November election. But if he wins, he hinted he may not try for a 14th term.

“This might be my last time,” he said. “I don’t want to be 90 years old in Congress.”