Plenty up in the air in 7th District

MARSHALL – While Willmar businessman Lee Byberg hasn’t ruled out making another run for the District 7 congressional seat in 2014, another potential candidate is giving serious consideration to making a bid for the Republican nomination.

Still, the GOP currently does not have a face to put with the race, and since incumbent Democrat Collin Peterson hasn’t officially decided on his next move, voters in the district can only guess who will be on the ballot on either side next year.

Peterson, a veteran Democrat, told the Independent in late May he typically waits until the January or February of an election year to make his decision.

Byberg gave Peterson moderate challenges in 2010 and 2012 but hasn’t made any concrete plans to challenge again next year.

“I have not decided anything,” he said Tuesday. “I haven’t ruled it out; still under consideration. I have to look at what’s best for my situation, what’s right for my family. I don’t feel now is the time to make a determination.”

Republicans haven’t had much luck against Peterson in the last two decades, but Byberg has been able to keep things interesting to a point, comparatively speaking.

Byberg, an advocate of the expansion of energy sources, came within 18 percentage points of unseating Peterson in 2010, a year of widespread success for Republicans nationwide. In 2012, however, Peterson widened the margin of victory, winning with 60 percent of the votes.

In 1998, Peterson won easily over Aleta Edin. Two years later, he defeated Glen Menze by nearly 30 percentage points. He also won easily in the 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008 elections.

For now, Southwest Minnesota State University political science professor David Sturrock said there are possibilities for the GOP endorsement aside from Byberg, including Scott Vanbinsbergen of Montevideo, who lost to Lyle Koenen in the House District 20B race in 2006, and state Sens. Torrey Westrom of Elbow Lake and Bill Ingebrigtsen of Alexandria.

“If there is an open seat, I think a number of people will at least take a look at it,” Sturrock said.

Vanbinsbergen told the Independent on Tuesday he has formed an exploratory committee and is giving a run for the seat legitimate consideration. He said he will make his decision this summer, knowing the 7th District is one of seven districts in the country the National Republican Party is targeting because of its conservative slant.

“The national party is making it a real focus,” Vanbinsbergen said. “I recognize it’s a challenging district, but the numbers are there; it’s a territory with common sense conservatives.”

In the build-up for the 2012 election, Byberg called out Peterson, and Congress, saying it was out of touch and disconnected with the American people.

According to a recent poll, his view back than is even more true today. A Gallup poll shows Americans’ confidence in Congress has reached an all-time low with just 10 percent of respondents seeing Congress in a favorable light. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll in January revealed that 80 percent of Americans think Congress is causing “serious harm to the country.”

But while Byberg said there continues to be a lack of leadership in Washington D.C., he also said not all of this country’s problems lie in the nation’s Capitol.

“I’m concerned to see a lack of leadership and transparency and willingness to stand up and explain how things are,” he said, “but I think the whole problem is not just in Washington. A lot of it goes back to we as people – what is in Washington is also a reflection of what we are at home.”

He said local communities and counties need to look at themselves to provide meaningful and economically-sound solutions to their problems.

Sturrock said some of what happens on the GOP side in the 7th District will depend on what Peterson decides to do. He said the landscape of the race in the district would change dramatically if Peterson decides not to run again.

“If you have an incumbent announcing retirement, it has a certain catalytic effect; it’s sort of an electric jolt to the political system,” he said. “You usually get a flurry of names then. Once a seat comes open, it’s off to the races.”

Sturrock said the National Republican Congressional Committee views the district as a “prime pick-up” if Peterson does retire. “They are actively making an attempt to lay the groundwork for a serious Republican campaign, especially if Collin does retire.”

Like Sturrock, 7th Congressional District Republican Chairman Craig Bishop said if Peterson pulls himself out of the picture it would open up all kinds of possibilities for the GOP and an opportunity for the party to finally gain control of the ultra-conservative district.

“You’ll get many candidates coming out if he decides not to run,” said Bishop. “The seventh is a plus-five Republican district, so it’s pretty conservative, but Peterson does vote conservative in some areas. He appeals to farmers and, of course, it’s a rural district. Once (an incumbent) gets established it’s pretty hard to uproot them, so he’s got some built-in advantages there.”

Vanbinsbergen said he doesn’t like the idea of career politicians, he can’t picture himself becoming one and would like to see term limits set.

“If I run and I win, you won’t be seeing me in office 25 years from now,” he said, a reference to Peterson’s stint in Congress. “I’m a believer in the way it was originally designed, that people provide a public service, then leave. It should never be a career or way of life. It wouldn’t be for me.”