For the first time in her relatively short career as a Congresswoman, Michele Bachmann is up against a formidable Democratic rival. Her territory, Minnesota’s Sixth Congressional District, was altered by redistricting, which added more conservatives to her constituency. While this would seem to make Bachmann more invulnerable, her opponent has actually drawn to within two percentage points of her in the polls.
Democratic candidate Jim Graves is a wealthy businessman who is making a lot of political hay by accusing Bachmann of being out of touch with residents’ needs and being more focused on cementing her national brand than on doing her job. His message is resonating with a lot of voters. At a recent town hall meeting, attended by many in Bachmann’s Tea Party base, Graves said, “You know that I love conservatives, because I’m a capitalist. I’m a business guy. I believe in free markets. I feel very, very comfortable being here with you.” The message went over well with the crowd.
Jay Mews, an unemployed St. Cloud resident, went to hear Graves because he wants a candidate with a strong stand on jobs and the economy. In reference to Michele Bachmann he said, “All these crazy conspiracy theories are distracting from the real issues. I’m looking for the real deal.” Minnesota Public Radio quoted the opinion of another voter, Kevin Weyer: “I guess Michele’s off my ticket…we’ve asked at every meeting where she was or if anybody’s seen her or her representative and it’s no every time. After this year I’m not sure where her values are.”
Some leaders in the Republican Party are worried, too, fearing that Bachmann’s wacky agenda will taint the party. But it’s hard to argue with her fundraising skills; in the last three months, her campaign reports that she brought in $4.5 million. Graves raised only $600,000. Even this might not tip the scales in Bachmann’s favor. The Democrat is wealthy enough that he could finance his own campaign.
At times, Bachmann seems to be working against herself. Some of her more preposterous tactics have actually raised money for her opponent. According to Salon.com, a pro-Bachmann ad that was meant to attack Graves for calling her anti-Islam rhetoric ‘outrageous’ actually raised $8 thousand for the Democrat. And when Michele visited a synagogue in Chicago to raise money, a congregant was inspired to raise funds for her opponent; subsequently, Chicago’s contributions to Graves increased by 400 per cent.
Graves characterizes himself as a pragmatic centrist who can appeal to independents and dissatisfied Republicans as well as Democrats. He touts his bipartisanship, saying that in business, party affiliation doesn’t matter. Bachmann is trying to label him as “Big Spending Jim Graves.” The problem is that he doesn’t have a public record to point to. She does, and her public performance keeps raising questions about her ability to be relevant.