With almost 18 months to go before U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann next faces Minnesota voters, the contours of a tough race are already taking shape.
A new survey, coming as the probe into her 2012 presidential campaign finances widens, shows her in a statistical tie with DFL businessman Jim Graves, who lost to her by little more than 1 percent in November.
Graves, who will be in Washington this week to meet with national party officials, touted the survey results showing him ahead of Bachmann 47 percent to 45 percent among voters. The difference is within the poll's 4.4 percent margin of error.
More ominous for the four-term congresswoman is her approval rating of 44 percent, well below the magic 50 percent mark where incumbents like to be. Meanwhile, 51 percent had an unfavorable rating, and this in an overwhelmingly Republican district. Just as remarkable, given Bachmann’s national Tea Party profile, is that 5 percent of voters in her district said they aren’t sure how they feel about her.
(Graves numbers are 39 percent favorable, 33 percent unfavorable, and 28 percent not sure).
Some GOP analysts say the numbers could explain why Bachmann has launched an unusually early television ad campaign so far in advance of the election. Recent filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) show that Bachmann’s campaign also has been spending money on polling.
The Public Policy Polling survey of 500 district voters was conducted last Wednesday, the day before Bachmann’s ads went up.
Commissioned by the Graves campaign, the survey also shows a significant gender gap for Bachmann. If only women voted, Graves would be ahead 50 percent to 38 percent. (Among men, Bachmann leads 52 percent to 43 percent).

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