Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

Graves v. Bachmann: State of the Race

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In Minnesota’s sixth congressional district, a highly conservative section in the blue-leaning state,  self proclaimed “Constitutional Conservative” Michelle Bachman faces off against self-made man and democratic underdog Jim Graves.

Bachmann is a three term incumbent and former republican presidential candidate. Highly supported by the Tea Party, the former Minnesota Senator is considered to be one of the most conservative members of Congress.

Jim Graves, by contrast, has a limited political history. According to his website bio, Graves is a self-made man who built his own hotel business from the ground up and hopes to help the Minnesotan economy with his experience in the private sector.

At first glance, Bachmann is favored to win without much problem, but things are rarely that simple.

Overall, Minnesota is traditionally democratic and is leaning blue overall this election. Most polls have Obama ahead by 3-5 points statewide.

The sixth district, however, is Republican-leaning with a CPVI of R + 7. Bachmann has been able to win her past three elections in this district and has as large base in area. In fact, Bachmann is currently polling six points ahead of Graves. Two thirds of evangelicals are supporting her, not surprisingly. However, she also is ahead among Catholic voters, 52 percent to 43 percent, even though Graves is Catholic.

Bachmann has been running ads trying to tie Graves to Obama’s health care reforms. In this district 55 percent of voters want to see the Affordable Health Care Act repealed and only 38 percent are in favor.

Of course, Bachmann has had plenty of money to buy ads. This campaign is the most expensive congressional campaign in the country, according to In fact, Bachmann has outspent Graves 10-1, raising over $20 million. This is likely due to her off-the-charts name recognition compared to graves. Graves has personally had to put in half a million of his own money just to compete.

So with so many advantages, why hasn’t Bachmann been able to sweep this election?

Graves has been able to create a small, but effective campaign strategy, attacking Bachmann’s weak spots. In a recent interview, he said Bachmann is a major general in the  “war on women.” Graves said she aims to take women back 50 years. Graves is also capitalizing on his own business experience, often saying that the country needs more people in congress who know how to build business, a haunting echo of Mitt Romney’s platform.

Bachmann has been painted as extreme during her own failed bid for republican presidential nominee. Graves has run several ads adding to that narrative. Furthermore, Bachmann has won by relatively narrow margins in the past even though her district is highly conservative. Some are saying that Bachmann has never had to run against a serious candidate before and that this is why she is struggling.


When they debated on Tuesday they tangled on issues of health care and the economy. Most voters in the district support Bachmann in terms of who they think can handle the economy better. Graves had a chance to bite back against Bachmann’s ads that tied him to Obamacare, saying “Michele, can you read my lips, please? I said there are some good things in the bill. But the heavy lifting hasn’t begun.”

Although, Bachmann has had the advantages in her favor, Graves has proven that it takes more than money and name recognition to sweep an election. The underdog might not win, but he’s already proven a point.


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