For a Rural Democrat, Talking Potatoes Is Easy. Impeachment Is Really Hard.

CROOKSTON, Minn. — Collin Peterson just wanted to talk about soybean prices and dying potato crops when he flew home to the western Minnesota farmlands that he has represented in Congress for almost 30 years.

But when you are one of just two Democrats in the House to vote against the impeachment inquiry, the subject is impossible to avoid. As a conservative Democrat in a rural district that voted for President Trump by a 30-point margin, Mr. Peterson is a man in the lonely middle, now besieged on all sides — by Republican rivals determined to yoke him to impeachment and by Democrats who want their congressman to stand up to a president they detest.

As public testimony begins Wednesday in the impeachment hearings against Mr. Trump, it is all very awkward for Mr. Peterson and other elected Democrats in Trump-supporting corners of the country. In a statement, Mr. Peterson criticized the closed-door depositions being run by fellow Democrats as opaque and “hopelessly partisan.”

“I don’t have a lot of confidence in what they’re up to,” he said one frozen morning last week after he met with 100 potato and sugar-beet farmers.

Many farmers from the Red River Valley who crowded into a hotel meeting room to discuss how weeks of cold, rainy weather had devastated their crops agreed with Mr. Peterson about impeachment. They had voted for Mr. Trump, and even as new revelations tumbled out that morning indicating that the president had demanded that Ukraine investigate Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son, Hunter, as a condition for getting military aid, many of the farmers brushed off the entire investigation. Instead, they saw it as a political distraction while their livelihoods were being strangled by Mr. Trump’s unpopular tariffs and a bad harvest.

“It gets sickening at times,” said Erik Bakke, 44, a sugar-beet farmer in Ulen, Minn., who said he still supported Mr. Trump and Mr. Peterson. As farmers got ready to head back to their fields, a few said the anti-impeachment vote had probably made Mr. Peterson more popular with his farmer constituents.

Still, Republican rivals smell blood. One Republican hoping to unseat Mr. Peterson labeled him a “puppet” of Democratic leaders trying to take down the president. Another held an anti-impeachment rally outside one of Mr. Peterson’s local offices.

But Mr. Peterson’s stance on impeachment puts him in a precarious spot with another constituency that rural Democrats also desperately need — the small but committed clusters of progressive voters galvanized by Mr. Trump’s election who now breathlessly follow every twist and news alert in the saga.

They fired off outraged emails after Mr. Peterson joined Representative Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey in voting against endorsing the impeachment inquiry. They called Mr. Peterson’s office to demand answers. A few liberal voters even flirted with not supporting him again.

“It’s almost inexcusable,” said Sally Suby, 70, a retired teacher from Detroit Lakes, Minn., who has begun posting roadside signs with slogans like “Demand Truth” to counter the Trump signs that speckle fields.

With conservative groups already attacking Democrats who voted for the impeachment inquiry in more conservative districts in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Michigan and elsewhere, western Minnesota has become another battleground in how impeachment might — or might not — sway rural and small-town voters.

Mr. Peterson, a pro-gun, anti-abortion politician who frequently votes with Republicans, is one of the few rural Democrats standing in a state that has followed the country’s bifurcation between bluer cities and suburbs and red rural areas. He is the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and has won endorsements from the Minnesota Farm Bureau, whose president called him “a champion for agriculture.”

His district spans almost the entire length of the state, from the Canadian border through lakefront tourist towns and soybean, corn and potato fields. He is on a first-name basis with voters who talk about “calling Collin” and tell stories about getting Collin’s help with a medical bill or Collin’s advice about a complicated farm program.

But his margins of victory have dwindled like winter daylight. Even as Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterms, Dave Hughes, an Air Force veteran endorsed by Mr. Trump, came within a few points of beating Mr. Peterson. In neighboring rural districts, conservatives flipped two Democratic-held seats in mining country and a white, rural stripe of southern Minnesota, raising Republicans’ hopes of winning Minnesota in 2020 for the first time in a half-century.

The first campaign rally Mr. Trump held after the House’s impeachment inquiry began was in Minneapolis, where he condemned Democrats for trying to “erase your vote like it never existed” and stoked the crowd’s anger over Minnesota’s large population of Somali immigrants.

Michelle Fischbach, a former lieutenant governor running in the Republican congressional primary, has turned impeachment into an attack line. She blamed impeachment for bogging down the passage of a trade deal between the United States, Mexico and Canada, even as Mr. Peterson (who supports the deal) tells farmers he expects it to pass within weeks. She said other votes by Mr. Peterson had been a tacit endorsement of impeachment.

“The Democrats have been so obsessed with impeachment that they haven’t been doing anything to help the farmers,” she said. “I know Collin’s out meeting with people, but he’s not standing up to Nancy Pelosi and saying, ‘We’ve got to stop this impeachment.’”

Kevin Paap, president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau, said that while impeachment was consuming Washington and die-hard partisans, many Minnesota farmers were too busy trying to salvage what crops they could after a muddy slog of a harvest season. Some potato farmers have lost 90 percent of their crop to the cold. Farm machinery is getting mired in the mud. Some farmers have abandoned Mr. Trump because of his trade policies, but others say they still support him.

“No disrespect, but quite frankly, if you’re not on the radio I’m listening to in a truck or a tractor combine cab, I’m not paying a lot of attention,” Mr. Paap said. “We’re on Day 23 of harvest.”

In small towns such as Morris, population 5,300 and home to a liberal arts campus of the University of Minnesota, the political fissures created by impeachment are often right next door.

One afternoon, Tom Collins, 63, and his family were lugging floor tiles into a cafe they are turning into a nutritional-supplement club. It was 25 degrees out, and Mr. Collins wore a black Trump 2020 sweatshirt that read “Screw Your Feelings.” His wife’s son, Tanner Gross, 25, was ordering a liberal-baiting T-shirt that said “Trump-eached.”

They said they have been following the impeachment news through church friends and social media, and planned to vote against every Democrat on the ballot next year, no matter how the farm economy was faring. “I think it’ll be a landslide this time,” Mr. Collins said.

On the other side of the brick wall, four women who lead the local chapter of the progressive group Indivisible were ordering salads and wraps at a recently opened restaurant that specializes in local fresh food.

Judy Flicker, 67, said that they had a “messy relationship” with Mr. Peterson, but that they had knocked on doors for his campaigns and would most likely vote for him again. Still, they were frustrated that the impeachment debate was leaving out people who did not fit into neat categories of urban liberals and rural conservatives, and said they would keep calling Mr. Peterson’s office to press him to support impeachment.

“We live in a small town,” said Sara Lam, a professor of elementary education. “We are a part of rural America just as much as a farmer.”

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