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Pioneer Editorial: Peterson wrong, but GOP worse

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, the 10-term Democrat from the 7th Congressional District, stuck his foot in his mouth the other day, and apologized for it. And now the state Republicans smell blood, and are waiting to pounce what they think is carrion bait.

Well, they're wrong and it won't work.

Peterson, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, was quoted in a Washington, D.C., publication that 25 percent "of my people believe the Pentagon and (then-Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld were responsible for taking the twin towers down," a reference to the 9/11 terrorist attack. "That's why I don't do town meetings."

The story was about how lawmakers handle the public, especially at public forums which tend to be monopolized by people with out-of-the-mainstream comments. Republican presidential candidate John McCain faced that in a Minnesota town hall meeting with a lady who insisted Barack Obama was an Arab.

Obviously, Rep. Peterson was wrong to say that 25 percent of 7th District constituents are conspiracy kooks, but he wasn't off base to suggest they exist. They do, and we receive the gamut of such theories from the right as well as the left in our letters to the editor submissions and phone calls. But 25 percent? No.

"If anyone was offended by my off-handed comment, I sincerely apologize," Peterson said in a statement.

Still, the Minnesota GOP Party will today announce an advertising campaign against Peterson, partially based on the congressman's asserting that a quarter of the district thinks the Bush administration had ties to 9/11.

Truth be told, Rep. Peterson is about as close a Republican they'll get in Congress without being a Republican. There is little room to move around to his right, and he's enjoyed a comfortable victory margin for years -- much to the consternation of extreme liberals and extreme conservatives.

While he may vote for liberal Rep. Nancy Pelosi for speaker, he's voted against the liberal ship many times, including against the Obama economic stimulus bill. He voted for the climate change bill only after he successfully amended it to farmers' benefit. And he crafted a farm bill that otherwise would have given into non-farm interests and seen even more money flowing to nutrition programming and less to the farm safety net.

The Minnesota GOP, under new Chairman Tony Sutton, has taken a decidedly negative bend of recent, attacking Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, practically claiming the U.S. Senate election was stolen from Norm Coleman despite a Minnesota Supreme Court decision.

Those tactics won't work in the 7th District.