By Eric Roper

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann went head-to-head Tuesday with her DFL opponent Jim Graves in a conversation that frequently turned testy over Obamacare, entitlements, a bridge and the best routes to job creation.

Graves, a hotel owner and business man, sought to portray himself as a pragmatic moderate who understands first-hand how business works. Bachmann railed against the dangers of larger government and repeatedly noted that she has her finger on the pulse of the district.

About 500 people turned out at the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud. The pro-Graves forces in the crowd frequently became vocal, particularly at one moment when Bachmann said she was not merely speaking in talking points.

The first dustup came over Bachmann's sponsorship of the St. Croix bridge, a project she said proves she can work across the aisle to serve the district.

"I was able to get Nancy Pelosi to even vote for this bill," Bachmann said of the House minority leader, perhaps her greatest enemy in Congress. "This is a major achievement. This was a signature issue and I’m grateful to do it. And it's because I am here. I am one of you. I have been in this district since I was in elementary school.”

Graves countered that the estimated that $700 million project -- construction likely will begin next year -- could be built for a fraction of the cost.

“I don’t think we should be building Rolls Royces, when we can get the job done and serve those people …in western Wisconsin with a Chevrolet," Graves said.

Bachmann attributed the high cost to government red tape and lawsuits from "radical environmental groups." 

A fierce opponent of the 2010 health reform law, Bachmann and her campaign have tried to hammer home in advertisements that Graves supports the deal.

“Jim was on television on a liberal TV channel speaking with Ed Schultz. He was asked would you campaign in favor of Obamacare and do you support Obamacare? And he said he did," Bachmann said.

Graves said Tuesday that her ads cut him off, and that he actually said the bill doesn’t cure the central problem of curbing overall health care costs.

"Michele, can you read my lips, please?" Graves said. "I said there are some good things in the bill. But the heavy lifting hasn't begun.” 

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