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More than a year after winning Iowa's Straw Poll for the GOP presidential nomination, and more than nine months after dropping out of that race, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is back on the campaign trail.
This time she's after a fourth term representing Minnesota's 6th Congressional District, and Bachmann's campaign is running into stiff competition.
Bachmann may be best known for her stridently conservative worldview and controversial remarks, but also her ability to raise huge amounts of money by congressional standards. According to Bachmann's campaign, in the past three months, $4.5 million flowed into her re-election bid.
OpenSecrets.org reports that through July, Bachmann had raised nearly $16 million, and that her Democratic opponent, Jim Graves, had raised less than $600,000.
On her campaign website, Bachmann pleads for more money, telling supporters the Democratic campaign committees have her in their sights.
"Now, perhaps you don't know this, but the DNC and the DCCC have specifically targeted me for defeat from the United States Congress," she says in a Web video asking supporters for campaign contributions.
Bachmann's district is indeed among those the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting in its Red to Blue campaign. St. Cloud State University political scientist Stephen Frank says that might seem surprising, since redistricting this year added more conservative voters to what had already been a fairly conservative 6th District. And Bachmann, he says, easily won the last three times she ran there.
"She's a good candidate. She's very strong. She raises money early and often. She appeals to constituents. She's a very formidable opponent," Frank says. "But I don't think she's had very good opponents in the past."
This time, though, Bachmann faces a Democratic opponent unlike any she's had before.
At a candidates forum this week at a St. Cloud community college, Graves told a crowd of students that his success as founder of the AmericInn hotel chain has made him a very wealthy man. He's from the world of business, he added, where nobody cares whether you're a Democrat or a Republican.
"I may be in the 1 percent club, but it doesn't make any difference. We all are in this together," Graves said. "The problem in America right now is we're way too polarized. I'm a bipartisan fella."
Bachmann was a no-show at the candidates forum. That disappointed first-time voter Bailey Eilers.
"It would've been nice to hear everyone's point of view," said Eilers. "[I] don't really like her, but I'm not strong one way or another, so she could've changed my mind if I would've seen her in person."
Later, Bachmann campaign manager Chase Kroll responded, saying voters can compare the two contenders in three debates scheduled for the final days of the campaign.
"The Graves campaign has been saying they want to be able to draw a clear contrast. I don't think there's any more need of a contrast," Graves says.
For now, Bachmann is going after Graves mainly on the airwaves. She's running ads that might make you think it's Graves, not Bachmann, who's seeking re-election. One ad refers to her challenger as "big spendin' Jim," and says: "We can't afford big-spendin' Jim in Congress."
At a well-attended Graves fundraiser at the St. Paul home of Garrison Keillor, the host of the public radio show A Prairie Home Companion sees off a pair of donors. Keillor grew up in Bachmann's district, and he's confident Graves is the man to replace her.
"I think that Jim is making a good case ... that she's been doing her own business for two years at least, and maybe she ought not to do that on the public payroll," Keillor says.
Back in St. Cloud, resentment lingers over Bachmann's quest for the presidency.
"She probably could've, you know, paid more attention to the homefront, but she does a lot of good work with veterans here in the state, so that's a good thing," says Kevin Solie, an independent who supports Bachmann.
Could Bachmann actually lose? Kroll doesn't think so.
"It's a competitive district, and ... it's a somewhat close race. I think we're gonna win, but we're not taking anything for granted," Kroll says.
In the latest poll from August, commissioned by the Graves campaign, the Democratic challenger trails Bachmann by 2 percentage points. Still, Frank, of St. Cloud State University, says the race remains Bachmann's to lose.
"I think it is going to be much more in play, and I do think he is probably the best candidate she's ever faced," Frank says.