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Lee Byberg, 7th Congressional District Republican candidate for U.S. House, talks to about 50 local Republicans who attended a chili cook-off Saturday night at the new Beltrami County Republican campaign headquarters in the old Burger King building at the Lake Bemidji waterfront. Pioneer Photo/Brad Swenson

U.S. House 7th District: Byberg raises $300,000 against Peterson

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If money could vote, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson must be feeling nervous.

Lee Byberg of Willmar, the Republican challenger to DFLer Peterson's 7th District seat, told Beltrami County Republicans that through mid-September his campaign had raised $300,000.

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That's six times more than most GOP challengers have raised in previous races against Peterson, first elected in 1990.

"We are setting records," he said Saturday night. "No other campaign in 20 years as a challenger to Collin Peterson has ever been able to raise enough capital to convert your feelings, your intelligence, with action."

The war chest comes in a period of tough economic times, he said. "I've met with farmers who have voted for Collin Peterson for 20 years. They are ready to look at a future with less involvement from government, in both regulation and in farm subsidies. They are looking for someone who will help them to transition."

With more than $300,000, Byberg said his campaign has targeted a lot toward radio ads in October. If another $50,000 to $100,000 can be raised, that would be targeted to print and television.

In the last official reports to the Federal Election Commission on July 21, Byberg had reported receipts of $167,971 and cash on hand of $25,135. Peterson reported receipts of $698,459 and cash on hand of $727,873.

A third candidate, Independence Party nominee Glen Menze, reported $8,552 in receipts as of July 29 and no cash on hand.

The Beltrami County Republicans held an open house of their new campaign headquarters with a chili cook-off. The new headquarters is the old Burger King building at the Lake Bemidji waterfront.

Before Byberg spoke, local candidates gave their endorsement for Byberg's bid against Peterson. They included House 2B candidate Dave Hancock and House 4A candidate Richard Lehmann, and Bemidji mayoral candidate Dave Larson.

Byberg, a Willmar food company executive, said Peterson would most likely lose his House Agriculture Committee chairmanship as he predicts the House will have a Republican majority.

"I believe Collin Peterson started as a good man, but after all these years, the power of influence and money would change even the best of us," Byberg said. He called for term limits of no more than 10 years.

"I'm running to represent a new generation, where the purpose is not winning in November but in restoring our nation," he said.

He would look at every agency in the federal government and have them justify each program. "If it can't be justified as essential, you cut it."

He would transition the federal employees laid off from those programs into private enterprise "so they can be producers instead of people that are wasteful in the system."

Byberg said he would also extend the Bush tax cuts which are set to expire Dec. 31.

"Not because we want to favor the rich, but because the rich will produce the jobs we need," Byberg, a Norwegian immigrant, said. "You need capital to take risks, to start new ventures, to create new ideas, new R & D, to employ the next generation."

The 7th District can play a key role in the future of food and energy, he said. The demand for food is expected to double in the next 20 years.

"When enterprise and people agree and recognize that there is a demand for more energy and food, then the industries will produce," he said. "That means we need to plan for energy that is all inclusive of all energy sources."

It means not only wind and solar, but also nuclear energy development, he said.

Byberg said he's visited all but Kittson County in the sprawling district that reaches from the Canadian border to nearly the Iowa border.

"This is not about being Democrat or Republican," Byberg said. :This is not about being for Lee or for Collin Peterson. This is about being for the American way. ... We will be the generation to restore what was lost."

Since the Greatest Generation after World War II, each succeeding generation has been concerned with themselves and government programs for themselves, he said.

"We lost our sense of independence," he said. "That is now costing us to the degree that our Founding Fathers recognized that once you violate the law of nature, in this case economics, you cannot spend yourself out of trouble."

Beltrami County GOP Chairman Ken Cobb cited Byberg as a candidate "who believes in the Constitution and limited federal power, in states' rights, in limited spending and in the greatness of our country."

"The moon of the people is rising and there is no place for Collin to hide," said Hancock. "He's not a Blue Dog but rather a lapdog that sits there and howls."

"People are looking for change," Lehmann said. "we're definitely part of that change that's going to occur on Nov. 2"

While running for a nonpartisan seat, Larson said that "in this group we have the political bend that I would adhere to."

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