The race for Congress in Minnesota's 6th District took another twist today when Democrat Jim Graves announced he is ending his campaign.
Graves' decision was a stunning reversal of his posture earlier this week, when he said he would still seek the seat after incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann decided not to seek reelection.
Democrats who were confident that Graves could win the seat following his narrow loss to the embattled Bachmann now have to scramble to find a viable candidate.
In announcing his decision, Graves declared victory, an unusual claim for a politician who has not won a race. In a written statement, Graves announced that he accomplished his main goal when Bachmann said Wednesday that she would not seek a fifth term.
Graves declined interview requests to discuss what changed his mind. But when Bachmann announced her decision in an online video, Graves said he was committed to staying in the race.
“My feeling is that if the Republicans put forward a candidate like Michele Bachmann, an extreme, far-right tea party Republican, they're going to have a tough time holding this seat.”Ken Martin, DFL Party chair
"We need people who are willing to listen to both sides and try to discern what's best for the country and that's what I'm all about," he said Wednesday. "It doesn't make any difference if I'm running against Michele Bachmann or anyone else. I'm really not running against anyone. I'm running for the people and for the message of civility, common sense, hard work and service."
One likely reason for Graves' decision is that he would have faced a tougher road against an unknown Republican candidate than against Bachmann, who had a long record and is known for controversial statements. Bachmann only narrowly defeated Graves in November, when Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the district by 15 percentage points over President Barack Obama.
Another factor in Graves' decision may have been fundraising. His dash for dollars was expected to slow now that he was unable to invoke Bachmann's name in fundraising solicitations. Democrats across the country were likely to contribute to his campaign to try to unseat Bachmann, a tea party icon with a high profile. With a lesser-known Republican defending the seat, that money would be harder to tap.
The 6th District includes St. Cloud, the northern and eastern Twin Cities suburbs and some metro exurbs.
DFL Party Chair Ken Martin called Graves' decision a small setback, but said he is confident Democrats will put forward a solid candidate.
"Anytime you have an open congressional seat, which is a rarity in politics these days, those seats tend to be competitive," Martin said. "And even though it is a conservative-leaning district, my feeling is that if the Republicans put forward a candidate like Michele Bachmann, an extreme, far-right tea party Republican, they're going to have a tough time holding this seat."
No Democrats have publicly expressed interest in running for the seat. But at least 10 Republicans said after Bachmann's announcement that they are considering a run.
Minnesota Republican Party Chair Keith Downey said he is confident his party will hold the seat regardless of who the Democrats pick to run.
"You don't take anything for granted but we have a really deep bench, a lot of energy, a lot of talent a strong organization," Downey said. "It's the highest-growth area in the state. We're fully expecting that we'll have a great candidate in front of the people and we'll have a strong national leader representing us in Congress."