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Peterson catches heat for comments

ST. PAUL - Western Minnesota's 2010 congressional race is under way, even without candidates. The state Republican Party launched a radio advertising campaign against Democratic U.S. Representative Collin Peterson this week, saying the 10-term co...

ST. PAUL - Western Minnesota's 2010 congressional race is under way, even without candidates.

The state Republican Party launched a radio advertising campaign against Democratic U.S. Representative Collin Peterson this week, saying the 10-term congressman is out of touch with his district. With Republicans assuming he will run again, it is the fist volley of a campaign in which Republicans promise to unseat Peterson, who has faced only a couple of close races since he first was elected.

A Peterson comment claiming a quarter of his constituents link the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to the Bush administration is invigorating Republicans in the district.

"You take down a building one brick at a time," said Peterson's 2006 opponent, Michael Barrett of Browerville. "This in and of itself is not going to severely damage him...I think it will be a combination of things. It is never too soon to get started."

Barrett, who lost by more than 40 percentage points and said health issues keep him from running again, has received 35 to 40 e-mails from people upset over the Peterson terrorist comment.

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Deputy GOP Chairman Michael Brodkorb said the issue will stick to Peterson. "Collin Peterson is going to find himself going forward in the eye of a storm," Brodkorb said.

More than a dozen western Minnesota radio stations will carry the commercial saying that Peterson's votes do not fit with his agriculture-dominated district, as well as criticizing his terrorist comment.

Peterson said political extremists like those who believe in the terrorist-government connection can take over public meetings, giving that as a reason he does not hold general town hall meetings.

"Really, Collin, 25 percent of your constituents are so out of touch they believe the U.S. government caused 9-11?" the commercial says. "So you won't hold town meetings? They're not out of touch. You are."

Peterson, who often returns western Minnesota reporters' calls, responded to a request for an interview with a prepared statement late Wednesday afternoon: "On Monday I apologized for my off-the-cuff remarks on this matter, and I continue to stand by that statement. As for the Republican Party's new ad, I think they can say whatever they want. I'm guessing that my constituents are more interested in cutting the deficit and getting spending under control, and getting a health care bill that works for them and that we can afford."

Peterson is one of many members of Congress who have complained that people with extreme views have hijacked town hall meetings so others cannot express opinions or ask questions.

The Washington-based Politico website quoted Peterson as saying: "Twenty-five percent of my people believe the Pentagon and [then-Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld were responsible for taking the twin towers down. That's why I don't do town meetings."

Peterson said he conducts forums on specific topics to prevent extremists from taking over meetings.

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The GOP commercial criticizes Peterson's votes on several issues, saying they do not match the will of people in his district.

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