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Peterson brushes off early attacks from national GOP

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who is laying groundwork to seek his 13th term in Congress, said Thursday he's unfazed by national Republicans' early attempts to oust him from office in 2014.

He doesn't plan to make his decision official until early next year, but Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat whose 7th District includes much of western Minnesota, has started raising money and hitting parades.

"Why would I go to 25 parades if I wasn't running?" he asked during an interview with the Forum's editorial board Thursday.

Peterson brushed off the early attack ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee launched earlier this month, which painted him as an out-of-touch politician who needs to be replaced.

The TV commercial features a farmer from the congressman's district criticizing Peterson, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, and the overregulation in the agricultural industry that will "jeopardize most family farms."

He's one of seven Democrats the NRCC is targeting in 2014, each from traditionally Republican districts. Despite representing the second-most Republican-leaning district in Minnesota, Peterson has cruised to re-election in nearly every cycle since he was first elected in 1990.

Peterson noted that it's not the first time the NRCC has targeted him -- it ran similar ads in the run-up to the 2012 election -- but said it's the first time national Republicans have hit him this hard or this early.

"There's nobody else to go after," he said, adding that Republicans don't have a challenger lined up. "They think that if they make life miserable, I'll quit."

A few names have circulated as possible Republican candidates, including Montevideo-based businessman Scott Van Binsbergen and Lee Byberg, who lost to Peterson in 2010 and 2012 by wide margins.

Van Binsbergen said in an interview that he's still talking with the NRCC and mulling stepping into the race, but doesn't have a timetable for making a decision. Echoing the NRCC's ad, he said Peterson has "been in the game" far too long.

"The job of being a congressman was one that was never meant to be a career. If I run, I'm sure not looking at this because I need the job," Van Binsbergen said.

Van Binsbergen said he doesn't think Peterson has paid enough attention to job creation in the region. He pointed to living his entire 43 years in the region and the real estate business he built from scratch with his father as qualifications for the job.

Byberg did not immediately return a request for comment.

Talk of Peterson's retirement began to swirl after he posted dismal fundraising numbers earlier this year. He pulled in less than $94,000 in the quarter that ended in June, according to the Federal Elections Commission.

But he said he loathes the long campaign cycles and purposefully delays his official campaign announcement until the election year rolls around.

Peterson, who turned 69 this summer, said he plans to run again in 2014 and beyond, "as long as my involvement is a positive thing and I'm helping my district and the country."