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Byberg sets sights on Collin

Lee Byberg of Willmar won the Republican endorsement to take on U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson of Detroit Lakes in November. Byberg will campaign by bus throughout the district and spoke to a crowd of about 100 at a rally and tea party in Detroit Lakes on Friday. (Brian Basham/Tribune)

In his soft spoken way, Lee Byberg is out to steal Collin Peterson's seat in the U.S. House, and he's doing it with a thick Norwegian accent and a touring bus reminiscent of Paul Wellstone.

Byberg comes by the accent naturally. He was born in Chicago, but raised in Norway before moving to Minnesota in his late teens to attend the University of Minnesota.

He graduated with a master's degree in business administration in 1990 and went on to a career in business, including a stint as general manager of Willmar Poultry Company.

An image of the bus was unveiled in Detroit Lakes on Friday, at a rally/tea party for Byberg.

Dubbed the "Twice American Express," (Byberg is American by birth and again by choice) the bus will travel to Minneapolis at the end of this month for the State GOP Convention.

Byberg, the endorsed Republican candidate for the seat, will also use the bus to campaign throughout the 7th Congressional District, which covers the northwestern third of Minnesota, including Becker County.

"We are living in an extraordinary time where America is at a cross-road," Byberg told about 100 people at the rally, held in the Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center.

"To ensure continuation of the American Experience of liberty and progress, we must recommit ourselves to limited government, free enterprise and individual responsibility. In all of this, we must also recognize that economic success is tied to a people with moral principles," he said.

Byberg has an uphill battle trying to unseat Peterson, powerful head of the House Agriculture Committee and a conservative "Blue Dog" Democrat.

Peterson has represented the 7th District since he unseated seven-term Republican incumbent Arlen Stangeland in 1990.

Byberg, 47 and married, with three sons, did not attack Peterson. Instead he talked about hope.

"I'm not running against Collin Peterson -- I'm running for the American Dream. It's time for people to re-commit themselves to the concept of America," he said.

He used a baseball analogy to stress that he is a champion of free enterprise that wants to reclaim America's rugged individualism.

That means replacing President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he said.

Agriculture is a big part of the 7th District, Byberg said. "We have to work with farmers on how they want farming to look 10 years from now -- we have to remove the heavy hand of government -- we know how to run our farms better than the bureaucracy."

And he vowed to "uphold the value of the unborn and defend life to the full extent."

The Democrats' health insurance reform law must be repealed, he added.

"We have to repeal healthcare -- not because we're upset or mad, but because we don't want to settle for second best -- we'll do something right for the next generation," explained Byberg.

These elements represent runners on base in a crucial late-inning game, and the game is in the hands of voters.

"Not it's your role to bring us all home," he said. "I'm your bat."

Conservative talk radio host Scott Hennen emceed the rally.

"Peterson will vote for Pelosi as speaker of the House," he told the crowd. "Do you want Pelosi as speaker of the House?"

"No!" they shouted back.

"What more reason do you want for talking to your friends and neighbors about not voting for Collin Peterson?"

"A trillion and a half dollars have been added to the deficit just this year," Hennen added. "I don't know about you, but that wasn't the hope and change I was hoping for from the Obama Administration."

A half dozen candidates for statewide office also spoke at the rally, including Rep. Bud Nornes, a veteran GOPer from Fergus Falls.

He mixed somewhat uneasily with candidates who spoke in the firebrand mode of 6th District Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (who spoke to the group in a taped message).

Longtime Vergas resident Gretchen Hoffman, for example, is running for the Minnesota District 10 Senate seat now held by DFLer Dan Skogen.

She blasted the new health insurance reform law.

"This bill has nothing to do with health care and everything to do with controlling one-sixth of our economy and everything in our lives," she said to loud cheers and applause. "The very old and the very young will receive little care -- I just found this out the other day."

Midwestern values are needed to put America back on course, she added.

"You people in the Midwest have the values, common sense and will to do what it takes to propel the nation back to prosperity," she said. "We will take control at the state level to dismantle the socialist nightmare brick by brick -- that way it won't seem so difficult."

Or this red meat tossed to the crowd by Mary Franson of Alexandria, running for the House 11B seat.

"Hello, fellow patriots!" she began. "Isn't freedom worth fighting for? Are you ready to take your country back?"

She said that she has "been endorsed by 'the Party of No' and will gladly say no, no, no to bigger government, increased spending and increased debt, but will vote yes to eliminate taxes that are toxic to small business..."

"We as a party need to get back to our roots and embrace what the founding fathers intended for us at all levels ... we are engaged in ideological warfare -- we need all the patriots we can to go out and win this," she added.

Just as her daycare kids want to be superheroes and fight the bad guys, "we have all been called to take on the bad guys in Washington and St. Paul," Franson said. "We have a duty to protect our liberty, life and pursuit of happiness ... we can turn this state from blue to red and escape the clutches of socialism."