Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann and DFL businessman Jim Graves, who came within a single percentage point of beating her last year, are headed for a rematch and already it looks like a brawl.
Within minutes of Graves’ long-anticipated announcement Thursday, the Bachmann camp launched an online attack ad. It’s ominous tone, along with visuals morphing Graves into President Obama, offered an early glimpse of what could be in store for Minnesota voters in yet another Democratic attempt to unseat the four-term congresswoman, a high-profile bête noire of the party coast to coast.
“These days Congress is all about ... scoring political points rather than actually solving problems, and Minnesota’s Sixth District — my home — is losing out,” Graves said in announcing his campaign. “I’m not interested in celebrity, only in solutions.”
Bachmann’s initial reaction: a fundraising e-mail to supporters under the subject heading: “He’s Back.”
The message linked Graves to Obama and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California: “Just a few moments ago, after receiving his marching orders from the Pelosi-Obama campaign machine, my Democratic opponent from last election announced he will again try to defeat me in 2014.”
In a separate statement, Bachmann campaign spokesman Dan Kotman also referred repeatedly to Obama and Pelosi, villains of the Tea Party movement that helped propel Bachmann to national stature. “The voters rejected Jim Graves and his rubber- stamp support of the Obama-Pelosi liberal agenda because the Obama-Pelosi agenda has left the country with chronically high unemployment, record levels of Americans on food stamps, a $16.5 trillion national debt, and fewer jobs,” Kotman said in the statement. “The last thing Minnesota families need in Congress is another liberal politician rubber-stamping the Obama-Pelosi agenda of higher taxes and runaway government spending.”
Graves, who ran as a centrist Democrat last year, on Thursday emphasized his business background as founder and former CEO of the nationwide AmericInn Hotel chain, which includes 67 Minnesota properties. He also created Graves Hospitality, a hotel firm that includes the posh Graves 601 in downtown Minneapolis.
Graves came within 4,296 votes of besting Bachmann in November, a contest that featured a presidential election at the top of the ticket. Obama will not be on the ballot in 2014, which is likely to lower Democratic turnout. But a ticket without Obama also could make it harder for Bachmann to mobilize her conservative base.
Nonetheless, Bachmann’s first campaign video makes it clear she plans to tie Graves to Obama, a target better suited to her image as a fierce critic of White House policies on health care and the economy.
While Bachmann has been a lightning rod for Democrats nationwide, she also has been rocked by ethics and campaign finance allegations made by several staffers in her 2012 presidential campaign. The political detritus of an ongoing Federal Election Commission (FEC) probe could easily slosh into 2014, as could a separate lawsuit and criminal investigation prompted by one of her Iowa campaign workers.
The FEC and the independent Office of Congressional Ethics are investigating allegations brought by former Bachmann aide Peter Waldron, who says her presidential campaign improperly mingled funds from a separate political organization called MichelePAC. Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed by former campaign worker Barb Heki has raised questions about whether Bachmann and her top campaign aides covered up the alleged theft of an e-mail list of Iowa home-school families.
Whether Bachmann’s legal troubles will cause any political damage next year remains to be seen. Minnesota’s Sixth Congressional District, which extends from the Twin Cities’ northern suburbs to St. Cloud, is the most reliably GOP district in the state.