GOP firebrand Rep. Michele Bachmann scored a narrow victory over Democratic businessman Jim Graves in a race that wasn't settled until 10 a.m. Wednesday.

With all precincts now reporting, Bachmann won 50.59 percent of the vote to Graves' 49.41 percent.

After initially saying in the wee hours that a recount was likely, Graves conceded the race around 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Graves said he called Bachmann to concede, and wished her and her family the best.

"We knew it was an uphill battle," he said in an interview after the call. "It is a very conservative district."

Graves said he thinks Bachmann's last-minute spending on a barrage of TV ads helped her win. "And we had very little resources to counteract that."

His campaign staff waited until all the precincts were in Wednesday before determining that the vote difference was too large to seek a recount.

"We're happy that we avoided a recount -- that's a nightmare situation," said Adam Graves, his son and campaign manager. "We fought as hard as we could."
Bachmann's winning margin of 1.18 percentage points put the race out of the range for an automatic recount under state law.

As the final precincts reported their results, Bachmann's lead grew from just under 1,000 around midnight to the final tally of 4,207.

Shortly after 5 a.m., Bachmann's campaign declared victory in a news release.

"It has truly been an honor and a privilege to represent the people of Minnesota's Sixth District in Congress, and I am humbled that they have placed their trust in me for another term," she said in the release. "I am extremely grateful to my dedicated volunteers for spending countless hours knocking on doors and making phone calls."

As in all election contests, the unofficial results will have to be certified by an election canvassing board before the result is officially declared final.

As for his future, Graves said he has no plans to seek another elective office and just wants to spend time with his wife, three sons and seven grandchildren.
"Never say never, but I'm a businessman not a politician."

Few expected the race to be this close.

Graves, a longtime Democratic fundraiser but first-time candidate, got a late boost from former President Bill Clinton, who headlined a rally with him in St. Cloud on Sunday.

The DFLer faced an uphill challenge overcoming Bachmann's record $23 million war chest in an outer suburban district that skewed even more Republican after redistricting last year.

Despite Bachmann's overwhelming cash advantage and national reputation, some polls had showed Graves in a surprisingly competitive contest that was followed intently by partisans on both sides.

"To me, the toughness makes a candidate sharper," said Bachmann supporter Suzi Blumberg, who gathered with friends at a state GOP election night party at the Hilton Minneapolis Bloomington. "If you always win by a landslide, you might get lazy."

After watching close Bachmann re-election races in years past, St. Cloud State University Prof. Julie Andrzejewski and her husband attended the Graves election night party at a hotel in St. Cloud, hoping to see a Bachmann upset. They said many of their Republican friends voted for Graves this year.

"They're really embarrassed and tired of being represented by someone like Michele Bachmann," said Andrzejewski.

Democrats were banking on a significant number of voters, particularly independents, who might have misgivings about Bachmann's history of provocative and factually contested statements, a number of which got attention last year during her short-lived bid for the presidency.

With no independent candidate on the ballot, unlike in Bachmann's previous congressional races, Democrats were hoping to make the election a hard referendum on Bachmann's image as a national Tea Party leader.

Graves, a millionaire hotelier running as a fiscally conservative Democrat, largely avoided engaging Bachmann on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, issues that propelled her into politics and made her a hero among Christian conservatives.

Instead, he tried to focus on her celebrity and national political aspirations, calling into question her focus on the district, which has been hard-hit by the recession and the accompanying wave of housing foreclosures.

Bachmann used Graves' wealth and his ability to partially finance his own campaign as a regular feature of fundraising pitches that were e-mailed daily to a national network of Tea Party and religious conservatives, supporters who reliably respond in large numbers of small-dollar donations.

Bachmann also campaigned as a leading critic of President Obama's health care overhaul, which she made her signature issue in Congress as she founded the House Tea Party Caucus.

Late in the campaign, she also made a virtue of her outspoken opposition to the Bush era Wall Street bailout and Obama's 2011 debt ceiling compromise, both of which averted fiscal crises and passed with bipartisan majorities in Congress. Her television ads described her as an "independent voice."

Going local

While Graves attacked Bachmann as "the most polarizing, most partisan person in Congress," she sought to cultivate a nonpartisan image with voters by pointing to the singular achievement of her three terms in the U.S. House: spearheading legislation to approve a new freeway-style bridge over the St. Croix River near Stillwater.

Graves opposed the project, which divided labor and environment-focused Democrats even as it was championed by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Gov. Mark Dayton and other prominent DFLers.

One rare area of agreement between Bachmann and Graves was on the Obama administration's 2009 stimulus package, which Democrats in Washington credit with averting an economic depression and creating millions of new jobs. Graves argued that it was excessively "politicized" in Congress, devoted too little to infrastructure projects and would not have gotten his vote.

Bachmann said "the only thing that got stimulated were more government jobs."

Fending off criticism that her presidential campaign caused her to miss months of votes and cut into her district work, Bachmann has been running ads highlighting her efforts to win funding for a veterans facility and to expand the St. Cloud airport.

A testy battle

Graves was able to raise some $2 million, which would be a respectable showing in most other congressional races. But he has not been able to keep up with Bachmann's heavy barrage of radio and television ads portraying him as "Big Spending Jim," a politician who would vote for Democratic spending priorities in Washington.

At the DFL rally in St. Cloud, Clinton thanked Graves for taking on the "heavy, important battle" of challenging Bachmann.

It was sometimes a testy battle.

In the last of their three debates, a faceoff Sunday on KSTP-TV, Channel 5, the station's commercial breaks afforded Bachmann a chance to amplify on her debate points with paid advertisements Graves could not match.

But as the Democrats' latest hope of unseating Bachmann, Graves also enjoyed a national network of support, particularly among Bachmann critics -- some of them Republicans -- who recoiled at her recent allegations of Muslim Brotherhood "influence operations" inside the U.S. government.

During their last debate, Graves called the charges "inflammatory." Bachmann said she made no accusations, but merely "asked questions."

Staff writers Kelly Smith and Jenna Ross and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Kevin Diaz is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.