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7th District Challenger Surprised By Trump Twitter Endorsement

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- President Donald Trump is throwing his political muscle behind a Minnesota candidate you may have never heard of.

This past weekend, Trump tweeted his support for Republican David Hughes, saying, "He will help us accomplish our America First policies."

Hughes is challenging Democratic Congressman Collin Peterson in the sprawling 7th Congressional District of western Minnesota. It is a district where Trump beat Hilary Clinton by more than 30 percentage points in 2016.

WCCO-TV traveled to Brooten in rural Stearns County to look at why the White House is suddenly making this race a priority.

For most of his 28 years, Rep. Peterson has cruised to victories in the 7th District by large, double-digit margins. But then came 2016, when a little known challenger David Hughes lost to Peterson by just a 5-percent margin.

David Hughes
David Hughes (credit: CBS)

Hughes, a 21-year Air Force veteran and drone instructor for a northern Minnesota defense contractor, had raised just $19,000 in 2016. Peterson raised $1.2 million.

"I think I've raised more money this week than I did the entire cycle in 2016," Hughes said.

He says that is all thanks to President Trump. While Hughes had asked for the president's support, his campaign was stunned when it happened.

"We had no idea that the tweet was coming or the timing of it, so it was quite a nice surprise," he said.

With the intense media focus on other Minnesota Congressional races, analysts say the 7th Congressional district -- with its farms and small cities -- is one to watch.

Collin Peterson
Rep. Collin Peterson (credit: CBS)

"These are just the kinds of voters who have been supporting Donald Trump and Republicans," said University of Minnesota Professor Larry Jacobs.

On this day, Hughes was getting a tour from Lucas Sjostrom, the executive director of the Minnesota Milk Producers Association. Dairy farmers have been hard hit by collapsing dairy prices, and Sjostrom says he is not sure who to vote for.

WCCO reached out several times to Rep. Peterson's campaign for a comment, but did not hear back. In 2014, Rep. Peterson stressed his independence:

I try to work with whoever makes sense, and so I end up making the Democrats mad half the time and the Republicans made half the time, and people seem to like that.

As this race enters the home stretch, Peterson enjoys an enormous financial advantage. He has raised more than $1 million, compared to Hughes $180,000. The Hughes campaign says that is about to change because of the president's endorsement.

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