Aiming for Peterson's seat, Hughes says third time will be a charm

Dave Hughes, right, shakes hands with a supporter at a gathering of local Republicans Saturday, Feb. 1, in Detroit Lakes. (Nathan Bowe / Tribune)
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Here’s five things you probably didn’t know about Dave Hughes, who hopes to be the Republican candidate on the ballot in November against longtime Democrat U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson:

  1. He admires Ronald Reagan so much he named his eldest son after him.
  2. He wants to do away with five federal departments and 220 federal agencies. (That would be the departments of Education, Energy, Commerce, Labor and Housing & Urban Development. He didn’t specify the agencies).
  3. He strongly believes in a balanced budget. “That’s hugely important to me,” he told a group of local Republicans gathered Saturday, Feb. 1, at Hub 41 in Detroit Lakes. “We’re running almost a $1 trillion a year deficit.”
  4. He cares strongly about America’s standing in the world, and the proper use of military force.
  5. If he’s not endorsed, he won’t challenge the Republican-endorsed candidate in the primary.

Hughes is a 21-year Air Force veteran who now works for General Atomics as an MQ-9 UAS (drone) instructor pilot, flying operational missions guarding both borders and training U.S. Customs and Border Protection aircrews.
He lives in Karlstad with his wife, Amanda, and their seven children.

He lost to Peterson in 2016 and 2018, and faces four other candidates for the Republican endorsement this year: Longtime state senator and former lieutenant governor Michelle Fischbach of Paynesville, Albany gastroenterologist Noel Collis, Alexandria attorney Joel Novak, and Windom pastor Jayesun Sherman.

Hughes made the case Saturday that he is in the best position to beat Peterson, a conservative Democrat who chairs the powerful House Agriculture Committee.

For one, Hughes said, Peterson is very well known in the district, reasonably well liked and not easy to beat: Hughes noted that he has come closer to defeating Peterson than anyone else since Peterson was first elected to Congress in 1990. (Peterson squeaked by Republican Bernie Omann by 1 percentage point in 1990 and again in 1992).


Peterson beat Hughes by about 5 percentage points in 2016 and by about 4 percentage points in 2018.

Peterson has not yet announced whether he plans to run for reelection this year.

This time around, with campaign help from President Trump, Hughes says he will win the battle. Trump endorsed him in 2018, but didn’t hold a rally in the Seventh Congressional District.

“If he comes to the district and rallies for me, that will be different in 2020,” he said. “We’re going to get him here.”

Hughes also said that, of the five Republican candidates, he has the best name recognition among voters across the sweeping Seventh District, which includes Detroit Lakes, Moorhead, Fergus Falls, Bemidji, Morris, Thief River Falls, Willmar, Marshall and Alexandria.

And he said Republican candidates going up against Peterson have not had much help from the National Republican Party. Hughes said when he first ran, the party’s opposition research file on Peterson was about six pages long, and looked a bit like it was put together by a middle school student.

This time around, Hughes says he has a strategic plan, done by political consulting group Tomahawk Strategies, that includes data targeting of specific counties. Hughes’ campaign team this year includes Col. Stuart Jolly, who was the national field director for Trump's campaign in 2016 and one of the founders of Tomahawk Strategies.

Hughes said that Peterson is vulnerable on his anti-abortion credentials, and has given campaign contributions to a number of candidates who support abortion rights. “I don’t think he’s pro-life at all,” he said. “People should know he’s been aiding and abetting NARAL candidates.”


Hughes said that none of his Republican opponents are “as strong on abortion as I am,” adding that he wants to “constitutionally end abortion in America.”

He also fully supports a 1,954 mile long barricade along the U.S.-Mexico border. “We need one big beautiful wall along the entire border,” he said.

Here’s how he defines himself on his campaign website:

“I will be a champion for Conservative policies to rein in our federal spending, reduce the debt, remove the government bureaucrats from our healthcare decisions, defend our 2nd Amendment rights, be a voice for the pro-life movement, protect our family farms and ranches and allow the free markets to rule again.”

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