By David Bailey/Reuters
ST. CLOUD, Minn., Nov 2 (Reuters)
- U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann, known for controversial
comments during her Republican presidential nomination bid, faces a
tough congressional election challenge on Tuesday in a Minnesota
district that should be friendly to conservatives.
race in the sprawling Minnesota 6th Congressional District has been
the nation's most expensive in both money raised and spent by Bachmann
and Democratic challenger Jim Graves, according to the Center for
The two candidates have raised a total of $22.7 million and spent $20.8, the center reported.
a champion of Tea Party backers of smaller government and conservative
social issues such as opposition to abortion and gay rights, has
outspent Graves by more than twelve-to-one in seeking election to a
fourth term in Congress.
But her remarks,
including an insistence on a link between an aide to Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton and the Muslim Brotherhood, have been denounced by
some in her own party and may be wearing on voters, experts said.
Bachmann would be a significant victory for Democrats, who are
fighting an uphill battle nationally to gain the 25 seats needed to
retake the U.S. House majority.
lacks name recognition, but has used Bachmann's presidential
campaigning for half of her two-year congressional term to accuse her
of pursing personal ambition over the needs of her constituents.
she was running for president, her attention was clearly not on
district concerns and I think that perception stuck with some voters
and it is a vulnerability that Graves is trying to exploit," Carleton
College political science Professor Steven Schier said in a telephone
Bachmann led Graves by 51 percent to
45 percent in an Oct. 16 poll by Pulse Opinion Research commissioned by
the StarTribune newspaper. The poll had a 3 percent margin of error.
has sought to tag Graves, founder of the AmericInn hotel chain, as a
supporter of President Barack Obama's health reform law. Graves, who
describes himself as a fiscal conservative, has argued that "there are
some good things" in the act, but "the heavy lifting has not begun."
"You can have your opinions, but you can't have your facts on this one," Graves said during a debate on Tuesday.
formidable fundraiser, Bachmann had nearly $3.3 million cash on hand
on Oct. 17, compared to Graves' $471,311, according to reports filed
with the Federal Election Commission.
Bachmann said several times during the debate in St. Cloud that she was focused on the district, echoing her campaign ads.
have paid attention and I have delivered for this district," Bachmann
said in the debate. "I know what the pulse is of this district because I
am here nearly every weekend."
District voters said job creation was their top concern, as it has been nationally, whether they support Bachmann or Graves.
number one thing, we have got to get people working," said Matt Salo,
who has voted Republican in the past and describes himself as a
Jeff Johnson, who said he worked 22
years at the Verso Paper Corp. plant in Sartell and had recently
completed training as a truck driver, was one of dozens of vocal Graves
supporters at the debate. "He is in touch with the people," Johnson
said of Graves. "Michele Bachmann is out there."
district encompasses eastern, northern and western suburbs of
Minneapolis and St. Paul and stretches north and west to central
Minnesota farms and cities. The already conservative district grew more
Republican after a 2010 redistricting, analysts have said.
is a district that should be a safe Republican district, but Michele
Bachmann has never been safe in that district and I think it is because
she is so flamboyant and controversial a figure," Schier said of
Bachmann has never won more
than 53 percent of the vote in the 6th district and won by only 3
percentage points in the last presidential election year of 2008.
University Professor David Schultz said Bachmann may have alienated
some constituents when she embraced her Iowa roots during the
presidential campaign, making the race more competitive, but he still
expected her to win reelection.
"I still think
she has the district to her advantage. She has the name recognition and
she is a money machine," Schultz said. "She is able to raise
phenomenal amounts of money."
Jerry Relph, a
Bachmann supporter from St. Cloud, said he believed it was
"disrespectful" for Graves to say Bachmann had not been a part of the
district. "I don't know how anyone with that attitude can reach across
any party line if that is what he is claiming to do," Relph said.