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Bachmann still standing after bruising challenge from Graves

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Rep. Michele Bachmann
Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann talks with her associates while waiting for a 6th Congressional District debate on Nov. 1, 2012, at Minnesota Public Radio. Bachmann did not hold any public events celebrating her victory in Tuesday's election and was unavailable for an interview.
MPR Photo/Anthony Kwan

ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann  narrowly won re-election to a fourth term on Wednesday. 

Bachmann's race against DFL challenger Jim Graves was so tight that he did not concede until Wednesday morning, when enough of the final votes tallied broke her way and the race averted an automatic recount. 

Her victory was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise rough election for Republicans around the state as well as the nation. 

The 6th District race was called shortly before 4 a.m. Wednesday, after hours of leapfrogging results that gave both Graves and Bachmann the lead at points throughout the night.

But in the end Bachmann was re-elected with a 1.2 percent margin of victory. 

Graves, who conceded around 10 a.m., congratulated Bachmann on her victory and thanked his campaign and supporters.

"The people of the district really reached out and supported us," Graves said. "We just didn't quite get enough to get it across the finish line. But that's democracy."

Graves said his support for cutting spending and raising taxes may have turned off some voters.

  "That isn't always the best way to get people to vote for you, when you say, 'Hey, we're all going to have to roll up our sleeves; we're all going to have to have skin in the game; we're all going to have to pay,'" he said. "That's kind of tough. It's a tougher message, but that's what I felt."

Bachmann did not hold any public events celebrating her victory and was unavailable for an interview. She publically acknowledged Graves' concession via Twitter.

Her campaign manager, Chase Kroll, said Bachmann was grateful for the victory, especially given heavy GOP losses in Minnesota and around the nation.

Jim Graves
Sixth District DFL challenger Jim Graves thanks his supporters at his election party at Le St. Germain Hotel in St. Cloud, Minn., early Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. The race was called for Bachmann early Wednesday.
Tom Baker for MPR

  "With a margin like this, it's not like I'm going to get up and grandstand about it," Kroll said. "We're happy we won, and we're moving forward."

Kroll was complimentary of Graves' campaign, saying it had a message that connected with voters.

"We're going to listen to the voters and take a good hard look at all the numbers and where they came from," Kroll said, "and learn from it from both from a policy standpoint and from a political standpoint."

Bachmann raised more than $12 million for her congressional race, running largely negative ads that labeled Graves a "big spender." The ads linked Graves to policies supported by congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama. 

While campaigning in the district, Bachmann talked about keeping taxes low and repealing the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. She also touted a new bridge linking Minnesota and Wisconsin and a Veterans Clinic in Ramsey as her signature achievements for the district during her last term.

By contrast Graves raised $1.5 million, a third of which he loaned to his campaign. Graves trailed in polls throughout the race in a district that by many accounts became more conservative after redistricting earlier this year. 

Graves ran as a centrist and fought to attract the attention of national Democrats and their donors, insisting all along the race was more competitive than polls suggested. In the week before the election, Graves' profile was elevated by three debates with Bachmann; a campaign concert with Peter Yarrow of the group Peter, Paul and Mary; and a last-minute visit from former President Bill Clinton.

Political scientist Kathryn Pearson, who teaches congressional politics and elections at the University of Minnesota, said Graves did well in an overwhelmingly Republican part of the state.

  "Given the demographics of the district," she said, "it's quite clear that many people voted for Gov. [Mitt] Romney for president and Jim Graves for Congress. And that sends a signal to Congresswoman Bachmann going forward."

Pearson said Graves was able to capitalize on the profile that Bachmann cultivated during her presidential bid.

"She spent a lot of time on cable news shows, often making incendiary comments against the White House and the administration," Pearson said. "She spent a lot of time as a tea party caucus organizer in Congress. And so this left Graves a small opening to talk about his moderate credentials and the way in which she hadn't necessarily put the district first."

After Bachmann's narrow victory, Pearson said Democrats are likely to look at their chances of winning the 6th District in the future. Graves has not said if he would consider running again.

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