Michelle Fischbach met with residents at a campaign rally in Detroit Lakes Tuesday in her quest to take on longtime DFL Congressman Collin Peterson in the general election in November.

But Fischbach will first have to elbow her way to the top of a crowded Republican field of candidates at the April nominating convention.

“I’m the candidate with the experience and the endorsements,” Fischbach said at Tuesday's campaign event at Hub 41.

By her side at the event was U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, a Republican who won the Eighth Congressional District seat in 2018. That Iron Range district was solid blue from 1947 to 2011, and since then has switched sides several times.

Peterson, of Detroit Lakes, is the chairman House Agriculture Committee and also serves on the Veterans' Affairs Committee. He has served the district since 1991, but has not yet announced whether he plans to run for reelection this year.

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Fischbach, of Paynesville, was the first female president of the Minnesota Senate and, In January 2018, as president of the Senate, Fischbach automatically became lieutenant governor following the resignation of Tina Smith. She was first elected to the state senate in 1996, where she represented portions of Benton County and Stearns County.

She has been endorsed at high levels -- by U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, for one, as well as Minnesota Republican legislative leaders and more than a dozen other Republican lawmakers, according to an earlier story by Forum News Service’s state government reporter Dana Ferguson.

Tuesday, she made her case for why Republicans in District 7 should support her.

“We are raising the money, we have the campaign (infrastructure), we have the organization to make sure Collin Peterson is done on Nov. 3,” she told the gathering. “We broke the district money record for an off year,” by raising $364,000 in 2019, she said. “That’s a big thing. We want to make sure we’re out there as a viable alternative. We have to be on TV in Fargo-Moorhead, and in the Twin Cities market, and on the radio ….”

She has top-level staff, she said, including a campaign manager with a winning track record: David FitzSimmons helped U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer win and keep the Minnesota Sixth District House seat in 2014 and 2016, and helped elect U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn in 2018 in Minnesota’s First District.

“I wanted to run for Congress in the Seventh District because people deserve someone who shares their values, someone who will fight for them -- not just go there and do nothing,” she said. “I appreciate having Pete Stauber here. He’s a great supporter of my campaign.”

Michelle Fischbach, right, and U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber pause for a photo at a Fischbach campaign stop in Detroit Lakes on Tuesday. (Nathan Bowe / Tribune)
Michelle Fischbach, right, and U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber pause for a photo at a Fischbach campaign stop in Detroit Lakes on Tuesday. (Nathan Bowe / Tribune)

“Michelle is a bright shining star as a candidate on the Republican side,” Stauber told the crowd, adding that Fischbach can follow the same path he did to flip a blue House seat red.

He pointed out that Fischbach gets an “A-plus, plus, plus” rating on pro-life issues, and is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, earning an A rating from the National Rifle Association.

“I was a police officer for 23 years, and the victim of two violent gun crimes, and I still support the Second Amendment,” Stauber said. “Michelle will be an ardent supporter of that as well.”

Stauber also gave a shout-out to Becker County Commissioner Ben Grimsley, who was in the crowd.

“You’re where I was two years ago, on the county board,” he said. “It’s so good to see you here … the government that’s closest to the people is the best, and that’s counties and townships.” Stauber served on the St. Louis County Board.

Fischbach's chief Republican foe in the April nominating convention is Dave Hughes, a retired Air Force major from Karlstad who earned his chops battling Peterson in 2018 and in 2016.

Other Republicans in the endorsement race are Albany gastroenterologist Noel Collis, Alexandria attorney Joel Novak and Windom pastor Jayesun Sherman.

All five Republican contenders are strong supporters of President Trump, and all are licking their lips at the prospect of running against Peterson, a conservative Democrat running in a very red district, with Trump on the ballot in November.

In the November election, “we’re going to get a lot of help from the president,” Stauber said. “I’ll be the first Republican re-elected to represent the Eighth Congressional District in 72 years.”

Stauber blasted the ongoing impeachment hearings in the Senate.

“For the first time in this nation’s history we have a partisan impeachment,” he said. “This is an attempt to affect the 2020 election, so we’ll see where it goes.”

If Fischbach is able to overcome her Republican competition and defeat Peterson at the polls on Nov. 3, it will be especially sweet for her: Election Day is also her 55th birthday.