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Bachmann, Graves introduce Graves to voters — in their own ways

Jim Graves says he’s a pragmatic centrist, but to Michele Bachmann he’s a big spender.

Congressional candidate Jim Graves speaking at a Chamber of Commerce event in Monticello on Tuesday night.
MinnPost photo by Devin Henry
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Graves doesn’t back away from the legislation Bachmann has badgered him about, but he said his support comes with caveats:

  • The Affordable Care Act is a “process, not a destination,” and more needs to be done to bring down health care costs. “If there’s something better, I would rescind it,” he told MinnPost.
  • The stimulus bill should have focused more on investing in capital and infrastructure projects. It was an overly-politicized package, but, “in principle, the stimulus wasn’t a bad thing.”
  • On the bank bailout, “the Bush administration did the right thing to stabilize the markets,” he said. “Sometimes you need to hold your nose and do what’s right.”

And Graves, who professed to the Monticello crowd that he’s a proponent of a small government that should “only do what we cannot do for ourselves,” said his professional life should be enough proof that Bachmann’s “Big Spending Jim” moniker is inaccurate.

“The last thing I am is a big spender,” he said. “It’s been a very difficult time for all of us in business and the last thing you do to get through this kind of recession is be a big spender.”

GOP aims at business background

But Republicans are trying to use his time in business against him.

The state Republican Party put out a laundry list of  what it called questionable business dealings from Graves’ past last Friday, ranging from a lawsuit with a former subcontractor for a construction job to the forced unionization of a group of employees.

Rep. Michele Bachmann
MinnPost photo by Devin HenryRep. Michele Bachmann speaking to supporters and volunteers at her St. Cloud office on Monday night.

The allegation the Bachmann campaign seized upon, however, had to do with a line in an online Graves biography where he identified himself as a member of the United Way of Central Minnesota board of directors, a spot Graves never held. He acknowledges now that he served on a committee instead.

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For his part, Graves said the issue was simply a misprint and he’s since corrected the biography online. The Minnesota GOP did not return calls for comment.

Shades of ‘Taxin’ Tarryl’

“Big Spending Jim” is, in essence, a sequel to Bachmann’s line of attack against her 2010 opponent, “Taxin’ Tarryl Clark,” a state senator.

In a series of ads released that fall, Bachmann used Clark’s support for a series of tax increases against her, including one literal tie-breaking vote on a doomed $435 million tax hike in 2010. The ads charged Clark with supporting tax increases on everything from Crayon sales and gasoline to the deep-fried bacon and beer served at the Minnesota State Fair. Bachmann beat Clark by almost 13 points that November.

 To a certain extent, it’s going to be harder for Bachmann to brand Graves than it was Clark because she had a record Bachmann could point to, University of Minnesota political science professor Kathryn Pearson said. Graves, a political rookie, has no bill sponsorships or voting history to use against him.

But the message Bachmann has been pushing — that Graves would support typical Democratic priorities in Washington — is one that should play well in the conservative-leaning 6th District.

“[Bachmann is] trying to remind voters as frequently as possible that he is a Democrat running in a Republican district,” Pearson said.  

Kroll said Graves’ lack of a voting record isn’t slowing down the campaign’s messaging against him.

“He hasn’t necessarily cast a vote for one thing or the other, but he has said that he supports all of those things … which I think portends to the type of person he would be if he ever had power in Congress,” Kroll said. “The more people get to know the real Jim Graves, the more people will break away from him and support a known commodity like Michele Bachmann.”

Bachmann undoubtedly remains the favorite in the race: the demographics in the new 6th District greatly favor Republicans, she’s a prolific fundraiser and she won’t need to spend any time introducing herself to voters. Major political prognosticators say she has an edge in the race, even if it’s not as much of a sure thing as in the past.

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But Graves said his biography will appeal to moderates and disenchanted Republicans across the district — as long as he’s the one writing it.

“We know through conclusive polling that if people know who I am, what I stand for, my policy positions, we win this election,” he said. “All we need to do is let people know who I am and what I stand for.”