Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

Bachmann in unexpected tight race with newcomer Jim Graves

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She is known for her crazy antics and head-scratching statements, such as the time she confused John Wayne Gracey, the mass murderer with John Wayne, the cowboy film star. More recently, the icon of the Tea Party, Michele Bachmann, has been chastised by both Republican and Democrats alike for suggesting Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Still, as early as 2000 when she was elected to the Minnesota State Senate, Minnesota has remained “Bachmann country.” The congresswoman, representing Minnesota’s 6th district is a far-right conservative who became the first Republican woman to represent the state in Congress. Bachmann won the 6th district by 13 percentage points in the last election, and was even a contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination until dropping out of the race after finishing sixth in the Iowa caucus. However, Bachmann has never run against only one opponent. That is until now.

Jim Graves, a Minnesota born and bred hotel magnate, is the new, fierce competitor that seems to be putting Bachmann’s winning streak in jeopardy. Graves has an unusual history that includes performing professional folk music with his wife and working as a teacher before starting his own small business, Intra Financial Corporation, in his basement. In 1979, he founded the AmericInn hotel chain and nurtured it into a successful business, Graves Hospitality. Although surprising since Graves is a wealthy businessman and libertarian leaning free market advocate, Graves is running on the democratic ticket.

Many would assume that it would be difficult for Graves to garner votes, or even name recognition, considering he has no prior political experience, this is his first campaign, and he is running against a third term incumbent. Not so. According to Graves, he has gone from 20% name recognition to 60% in only a few months and this is reflected in the latest polls. The Cook Political Report has downgraded the Sixth Congressional District from “likely Republican” to “leans Republican” and early in the month the Rothenberg Political Report moved the district from “safe Republican” to “Republican favored.” A poll released by Graves campaign has Bachmann with a only a narrow 2% lead.

This could be due to Graves efforts with the Independent Party in Minnesota. Graves met with the Independents early in the race and convinced them not to enter their own candidate, making it a one-on-one race. This leaves 10% of 6th district independent voters up for grabs, and Graves is hoping to nab them. On the other hand, recent redistricting created a 6th district that is believed to be more conservative than the old and Bachmann seems ready to fight.  Bachmann has raised and spent more money in this election cycle than any other member of the House except Speaker John Boehner. It is reported the campaign has run through $16 million through the end of July while Bachmann continues to fundraise.

The strengths of Graves come from his business background and Bachmann’s self-perpetuated gaffs. Many voters see Graves as the common sense businessman that Minnesota needs compared to Bachmann who has been accused of acting like a “wannabe celebrity. ” Bachmann has moved away from the district, and during the GOP primary referred to herself as an Iowan rather than a Minnesotan aggravating her constituents. Graves, in an interview with Alex Witt on Weekends with Alex Witt, points out the differences between he and Bachmann: “I’m a business guy. I’ve created a lot of jobs, I understand the economy, I understand how to get things done. Representative Bachmann doesn’t. She really has not created one job in the six years she has been in office, not one.” Earlier in the interview Graves also accused Bachmann of wanting to push the proposed upcoming debate until after the election because she doesn’t want the truth to be heard. He comments on his desire for bipartisan talks about the budget and the districts desire to focus on reality instead of the “fringe issues” he accuses Bachmann of harping on. (You can watch the full interview here).

Bachmann’s campaign is attacking Graves in ads as “Big Spending Jim.” She and the GOP have also questioned his business practices, financial disclosures, and most recently if he actually served on the board of the United Way of Central Minnesota as he claims.  Graves proposed wrongdoings also include setting up his hotels as “union shops,” breaking agreements with early hotel partners, and not listing several businesses he was involved in on his required federal financial disclosures.

The stakes are high for Graves and much higher for Bachmann. For now it seems the seat will still go to Rep. Bachmann, however, there is no doubt Graves is giving her an unexpected run for her money!

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