MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The barrage of political campaign ads has begun in Minnesota. That’s no surprise. What is unexpected, however, is all the early spending on two Minnesota Congressional seats.

For more than two decades, 7th District Democratic Congressman Collin Peterson was untouchable– and unbeatable. So why are Democrats spending a fortune to run this attack ad on his little known opponent, Torey Westrom?

It’s because Westrom appears to be stronger than expected and national Republicans think this conservative northwestern Minnesota district is ripe for the picking.

“Mitt Romney won by 10 points in the 7th District,” said Larry Jacobs, the Walter F. and Joan Mondale Chair for Political Studies at the Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs.

“Republicans feel like it’s their territory and they are ready to take it back,” he said.

Minnesota’s 7th District is one of only seven congressional districts in the country that elected a Democrat to congress in 2012 even though Republican Mitt Romney won the presidential vote.

President Barack Obama won 17 Congressional districts that also elected a Republican to Congress.

It’s not the only Minnesota Congressional race in play. A new ad in Minnesota’s 8th district mocks Republican Stewart Mills — and his hair.

It’s a signal Democrats appear nervous about a possible upset.

“Democrats are looking for a way to undermine Mills, who’s coming off as very authentic and as someone who connects,” Jacobs said.

Even if Republicans don’t win the Congressional races, they want to run up the Republican vote as much as possible in northern Minnesota. They’re hoping it will cut into the vote totals for Democrats Mark Dayton and Al Franken.

In the 8th District, from outside groups alone, there has been about $2 million spent on ads.

As for the 7th District, it’s expected that at least $3 million in political ads between now and Election Day.

Pat Kessler