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Rep. Michele Bachmann won reelection early Wednesday, fending off a challenge from Democrat Elwyn Tinklenberg in a Sixth Congressional District race that came to symbolize the perilous position of Republican incumbents across the nation.
Bachmann held on to a narrow but significant lead over Tinklenberg with 8 of 10 precincts reporting and a dwindling number of areas where he could find enough votes to make up the difference. Bachmann said Tinklenberg called her and conceded shortly after midnight.
Bachmann credited her victory to her vote against the $700 billion financial rescue package and her campaign to open up restricted areas for oil drilling to bring down the price of gasoline.
She said that wherever she went, "those two issues people appreciated," she said.
Independence Party candidate Bob Anderson was a distant third, but drew enough votes to possibly influence the outcome.
In the Second District, Rep. John Kline declared victory over DFLer Steve Sarvi. Kline was leading by a wide margin with nearly all precincts counted.
Reeling from criticism for questioning the patriotism of other politicians, Bachmann scrambled in recent days to focus attention on her call to cut taxes, a theme that plays well in the conservative district.
Tinklenberg, who ran as a moderate Democrat and was endorsed by the Independence Party, portrayed Bachmann as an extremist and himself as one who transcended partisan politics.
Late Tuesday, Tinklenberg was counting on votes that hadn't been reported yet from university areas of St. Cloud and in Washington County to overcome Bachmann's edge.
"We really need big numbers there," he said.
Tinklenberg also expressed surprise that Anderson was winning about one in 10 votes, but was unsure which candidate he hurt more.
Anderson said he believed he had drawn more votes away from Bachmann, saying they were "the two conservatives in this race."
Coming briefly onto the Republican election-night headquarters floor shortly before 10 p.m. Tuesday, Bachmann said, "We always knew it would be very close, but now it's coming to look positive."
The Sixth District wraps around the northern Twin Cities and extends west to St. Cloud. The Second District includes the Twin Cities southern suburbs and rural areas south of them.
Both were considered reliably Republican territory, but discontent over the economy and Bachmann's comments helped turn the Sixth into a tossup. On MSNBC's "Hardball" two weeks ago, she said Barack Obama "may have anti-American views" and the news media should inquire whether members of Congress have "anti-America" views.
Suddenly, money poured into Tinklenberg's campaign, allowing him to wage an expensive TV ad war.
After an MPR poll showed that four of 10 likely voters were less likely to support Bachmann because of her comments, she aired an ad that said, "I may not always get my words right, but I know that my heart is right."
The $700 billion financial rescue package approved by Congress loomed large in both districts. Kline voted for the rescue package. Bachmann voted against it. Tinklenberg favored the package, saying rejecting it would have caused a more serious crisis.
Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210 Randy Furst and Warren Wolfe contributed to this story.