Sixth Congressional District candidates Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann and Democratic challenger Jim Graves debated Thursday for a second time, less than a week before Election Day.
On paper, Bachmann should have the race for a fourth term sewn up. She represents the most Republican-leaning district in the state. And thanks to her fundraising prowess, Bachmann's campaign has more than $3 million on hand for the final stretch.
But after a failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination and a reputation for making controversial, and sometimes false, statements, Democrats think they have a candidate who can unseat her in the form of Graves.
The wealthy businessman and first-time candidate describes himself as a moderate who will focus more on the district, which spans the northern Twin Cities suburbs and the St. Cloud area, than on his national profile.
The debate, moderated by MPR News' Kerri Miller on The Daily Circuit program, was mostly focused on national issues. Neither candidate said much about anything specific to the 6th District.
They clashed often, beginning with abortion. Republican candidates nationwide have come under scrutiny for their positions regarding abortion in the case of rape. When Miller asked about her stance on the subject, Bachmann answered this way:
"I believe that there needs to be an exception for the life of the mother but other than that..."
Miller: "But not of rape?"
Bachmann: "I stand by the position I've held for 40 years."
Graves opposed that position, arguing that women, not the government, should make the decision. He also said he favored policies such as equal pay for women, better day care and maternity leave.
"I want to basically get rid of all those needs why a woman would have to have an abortion," Graves said.
On the subject of health care, Bachmann repeated her long-standing opposition to the 2010 health care law, saying it was too intrusive and didn't do anything to reduce health care costs.
"The best way you can do that after you repeal, because that's the first step, is to allow every American wherever they live in the United States to buy any health insurance plan they want anywhere in America with no minimum requirements," Bachmann said.
Many health care analysts worry that such an approach would lead to insurers offering cheap plans with minimal coverage in whichever states offered the least regulation. But Graves has been wary of endorsing the health care law in a heavily Republican district and said he could envision voting to repeal it under some circumstances.
"If there's something better, yes," he said. "I'm not dodging the question."
Miller: "So in principle you agree with the Affordable Care Act, on principle you like it?"
Graves: "No, in principle it's a process not a destination."
The candidates also sparred on the subject of the 2008 financial and auto industry bailouts. Bachmann used her opposition to the bailouts to argue that she was an independent voice in the Republican party, willing to defy the then-president and treasury secretary on a matter of principle.
"I didn't believe George Bush and I didn't believe Hank Paulsen that we looking at a financial Armageddon," Bachmann said.
Graves countered that Bachmann's position was irresponsible.
"If we would have let the entire financial industry collapse, like Michele Bachmann wanted, you could have not taken your credit card and bought groceries at the grocery story. Everything would have froze up," Graves said.
Graves and Bachmann also tangled on fiscal policy and balancing the federal budget. Bachmann has endorsed the plan put forward by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who's also the GOP's vice-presidential candidate, that would transform Medicare from a government-run health plan to one in which the government gives seniors a fixed amount to buy health insurance.
Graves said that plan would raise costs for retirees. But Graves said he would consider requiring higher-income seniors to pay more for Medicare, a position that puts him at odds with many of the Democrats he would like to join in Congress.
The candidates will meet for one last debate Sunday morning hosted by television station KSTP.
Review the live blog at MPR News.
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