Archived Story

Byberg looks to grassroots for success

Published 11:58am Monday, October 8, 2012

In 2010, Lee Byberg faced an unenviable task. The Republican businessman from the Willmar area was running against longtime DFL Congressman Collin Peterson in the Seventh District for the first time, and he needed to raise money and get face time in a geographically huge district — one that stretches from the Canadian border practically down to Iowa.

“People knew me in my county,” said Byberg, who spoke to supporters Thursday night at the Fergus Falls Pizza Ranch. “Outside of my county …”

He trailed off, chuckling.

It was an uphill battle for attention, and that November, Byberg lost, with Peterson racking up 52.5 percent of the vote to Byberg’s 37.6. While the optimist in Byberg finds something to like about those statistics – they represent a 9 percent bump for the GOP candidate over 2008 and an almost 20 percent drop for Peterson – it was still a disappointing loss.

However, when Byberg decided in 2011 that he would run against Peterson again, he staked his campaign heavily on grassroots efforts.

Since declaring his candidacy for 2012, Byberg said his campaign has raised almost $500,000 – 85 percent from inside the district. Though Peterson has more money, Byberg is very happy with his fundraising efforts, claiming that a much larger percentage of Peterson’s money comes from outside of the district or from “special interest groups.”

“We believe that local dollars will travel farther because they will be earned locally,” he said.

Byberg has been able to command more attention this year than in 2010 for a variety of reasons. His name recognition is higher now just because he’s been in the public eye for so long, but door-knocking and making speeches is only part of his strategy. He published a book this year (“Builders of Our Land”), has scheduled a concert with country music star Lee Greenwood (of “God Bless the USA” fame) in Alexandria, and, in one of his campaign’s more ambitious efforts, is assembling an area “mega-choir” of more than 100 District 7 residents to sing hymns and patriotic songs at a few venues around the area.

“The music is symbolic of us coming together,” he said.

Now that Byberg has a more visible platform, he’s trying as often as possible to broadcast his message, one of smaller government and economic encouragement. The best way to increase government revenue, he said, is by businesses and individuals making more money.

“The solution is not for the government to spend more or tax more,” he insisted. “It is to grow the economy by removing the pressures on business owners.”

He views the Seventh District, with its often rural and conservative bent, as an ideal place to make a stand for limited government — partially because he rejects the notion that Peterson is a moderate Democrat. While he said Peterson has done some good in his time in office, he decried votes in favor of cap and trade, upholding the Affordable Health Care Act, and general support of President Barack Obama as things that can only negatively impact people at a local level.

Byberg’s focus is on reducing government spending and regulation and encouraging local control within the district. It’s an approach he said has been ignored by many in the past few decades, but he believes that local ideas and capital are key to righting the ship of state – and to proving that grassroots campaigning can still work in a world of super PACs and career politicians.

“We want to show that we (won the election) by intention and with a new framework that proves that we can fund it locally,” he said.

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