Political newcomer Jim Graves says he is confident he can defeat Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in the 6th Congressional District.
Graves, a hotel developer who lives in Minneapolis, grew-up in St. Cloud and recently won the DFL endorsement to run against Bachmann.
"I wouldn't be here talking to you today if I didn't feel completely confident that we can win this thing," Graves said.
Most Minnesotans probably don't know much about Graves, who's never before run for office. They might have heard about his elegant Graves 601 Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. He's proud of the place from its marble floors to its wooden walls.
"What we tried to implement in the entire design is rather than having a piece of art on the wall or a piece of art here or there, we wanted the entire structure to be an art form," Graves said.
The luxurious Graves 601 hotel is a far cry from the St. Cloud basement bedroom office where Graves started his real estate development company in the late 1970s.
Graves Hospitality now employs about 500 people and operates seven properties. Graves, 58, said he's running for Congress to help create opportunities for others.
"I've got a finite amount of time on this planet," Graves said. "I want to give back at this stage of my life."
And Graves said if he's elected he'll pour his energy into representing central Minnesota in Congress, something he accuses Bachmann of failing to do.
"My biggest issue is that I don't think she's representing the 6th District or the country appropriately," he said. "The divisiveness, the lack of civility and the polarization has to stop."
Graves also said Bachmann has missed too many votes.
Since taking office in January of 2007, Bachmann has missed 11 percent of the votes in the House of Representatives. In the last quarter of 2011 when she was running for president, Bachmann missed more than 90 percent of the votes.
Despite Bachmann's focus on her national campaign, most political observers view her as a shoo-in for re-election. The latest round of reapportionment left the 6th District even more conservative and most area Republicans are quick to cheer on the outspoken congresswoman.
But Graves said he thinks voters will be receptive to his message that it's time to stop fighting and find common ground in Washington.
St. Cloud attorney Peter Donohue, a long-time friend of Grave's, said he was surprised at first but is now bullish about Graves' campaign. He said Graves is running for the right reasons.
"Jim is an extremely dedicated man who believes in the common good and, I think, was upset with the lack of representation for the 6th District," Donohue said.
The Bachmann campaign calls Graves a "radical liberal."
Graves says he does not plan to run a particularly partisan campaign.
He lists Democrats and Republicans among politicians he admires. He applauds some Republicans — Dwight Eisenhower for shepherding in the freeway system and Richard Nixon for establishing the Environmental Protection Agency. He said Democrat John F. Kennedy brought the nation hope and Bill Clinton bridged gaps between Republicans and Democrats.
"I don't think my message is either blue or red or red or blue," Graves said. "My message is to the people of the 6th District that 'I'm there for you.' "
Graves supports legalized abortion and same-sex marriage. He said the Wall Street bailout kept the county from slipping into a depression and that the recession would have been worse had there been no stimulus bill. Graves declined to say much about the health care overhaul critics labeled "Obamacare."
"Let's face it, there's a lot of good things. Is it perfect? No. Do we have work to do? Yes," he said.
Graves won't say what he dislikes about the health care law. He said it's good that the act prohibits insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and that it requires them to cover adult children.
Graves wrote a $100,000 check to get his campaign started. He said he will spend more of his money as needed, but that he will not entirely self-finance.
Graves lives outside of the 6th District in south Minneapolis, but will soon add a second home in St. Cloud — the heart of the district.