A look back at Collin Peterson's decades-long political career

Republican Michelle Fischbach defeated Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson after 30 years representing Minnesota's 7th Congressional District.

Collin Peterson will end his career as one of Minnesota’s longest-serving members of Congress, having spent 30 years in Washington, D.C. In that time, he developed a reputation for bipartisanship and independence.

He is one of the last rural Democrats in Congress, and frequently bucked his party on issues such as the environment and creating the Affordable Care Act. When he breaks with his party, he says he is merely reflecting the views of his district. Peterson was one of only two Democrats to vote against the impeachment of President Donald Trump. He opposes abortion and is the lone Democrat in Congress with an A-rating from the NRA. Peterson is the first Minnesotan to serve as chairman of the powerful House Agriculture Committee, highlighting his deep understanding of rural issues and international agricultural policy.

Peterson's seat was a loss for congressional Democrats who hoped a "blue wave" would help expand their vote margin in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2020 – an expectation that didn't materialize.

Peterson often flies a single-engine airplane to get around his district, which stretches roughly 35,000 square miles across much of the western border of the state.

Sen. Collin Peterson explains proposed bill to a crowd. Photo by Art Hager.

Nov. 2, 1976

Peterson is elected to the Minnesota Senate. Peterson works as an accountant when he is elected, and serves in the state Senate for 10 years. Peterson had also previously served in the North Dakota National Guard.

Photo by Art Hager.

1984

Peterson runs for the U.S. House of Representatives in Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District, which includes Moorhead and Bemidji. He loses to Republican Arlan Stangeland.

1986

Peterson runs again for the House of Representatives, losing to Stangeland again, this time by only 121 votes.

Peterson makes another attempt in 1988 but loses in the DFL primary.

Peterson speaks to students at his former high school in Glyndon after winning the election in 1990. Photo by Associated Press.

1990

After three failed attempts, Peterson is successfully elected to serve in the U.S. House. He defeats incumbent Stangeland.

Peterson goes on to represent Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District for 30 years.

Peterson leads a five-man congressional band called The Second Amendments at WE Fest in 2005. Photo by Don Davis.

2005

Country music star Willie Nelson invites Peterson to play at Farm Aid to lend political heft to the fundraiser. Peterson played in several bands in Washington, including a cover band called the Second Amendments.

"He told me I could play as long as I wanted, but I know how that goes," Peterson said at the time. "He's kind of like a member of Congress telling a constituent what they want to hear.”

Peterson visited his district to attend the McLeod County Fair. Photo by Jeff Wheeler.

2007

Peterson serves as chairman of the House Agriculture Committe for four years. During his tenure, the historic 2008 Farm Bill is passed and signed into law.

2010

Peterson is one of 34 Democrats to vote against the 2010 version of the Affordable Care Act that eventually became law, but he later votes against Republican efforts to repeal the law.

2012

Peterson is reelected with 60.4% of the vote. This is the highest margin of victory he will have for his remaining elections.

2018

As ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, Peterson works with both chambers and the Trump administration to pass another Farm Bill. The agreement helps small dairy farmers and those receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, among other changes.

Peterson smiled as Senator Amy Klobuchar praised his leadership on the farm bill. Photo by Glenn Stubbe.

Feb. 7, 2019

Peterson again serves as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Peterson said during the organizational meeting. “We have a great opportunity to drive real, tangible and bipartisan progress for Americansin all communities, rural or urban, from this Committee. Now it won’t be flashy—as far as I know, nobody’s ever accused me of that—but it will be important work.”

Dec. 2019

Peterson tells the Star Tribune that prominent Republicans in Washington have urged him to switch parties but he has no intention of doing so. Peterson is a conservative Democrat, he’s anti-abortion, supports mining and bucks the party on the Affordable Care Act.

Dec. 18, 2019

In a break with his party, Peterson opposes two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. He’s one of two Democrats to oppose the measures. The other, Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, is now a Republican.

“I don’t condone what the president did,” Peterson said. “But at the beginning of this thing they said they were going to have bipartisan support or not move ahead. There’s no bipartisan support. It’s just going to further divide the country.”

Peterson toured the Busch Agricultural Resources in Moorhead, Minnesota. Photo by Glenn Stubbe.

Nov. 3, 2020

Peterson loses his reelection battle to Republican Michelle Fischbach, a former lieutenant governor and state senator. He had served in the House for 15 consecutive terms.

Nov. 4, 2020

"I'd like to thank the people of the Seventh District for their support over the years,” Peterson said in a press release. “Serving them in Washington DC has been a great honor, and I respect their decision to move in a different direction. We ran a strong and positive campaign, but with the President winning this district by 30 points again, and the millions in outside money that was spent to attack me, the partisan tilt of this district was just too much to overcome."

He has not granted interviews about the election since his defeat.

Star Tribune reporters Briana Bierschbach, Baird Helgeson and Jeff Hargarten contributed to this story.