Democratic Businessman Jim Graves promises to fight hard in race against Michele Bachmann
By LAUREN FOX
May 23, 2012
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Rep. Michele Bachmann arrive at a campaign stop in Portsmouth, Va.
A Minnesota hotel CEO is gunning for a congressional seat currently held by one of the state’s most polarizing leaders, a woman who has become a conservative celebrity not just in Minnesota, but across the country.
Jim Graves, a Democrat and CEO of Graves World Hospitality, has never held elected office and is running against Michelle Bachmann in one of Minnesota’s most conservative districts, which has tipped even further to the GOP’s side by redistricting.
Bachmann has represented Minnesota’s sixth district since 2007 and has earned a reputation as a tough minded legislator who doesn’t stray from her ideals.
Despite mounting obstacles, Graves hopes his hometown appeal will help beat one of the most popular conservatives in the country.
“I feel really confident, and I am not being delusional,” Graves says. “I come from the district, and I am a very moderate person.”
Bachmann heads into the race with major campaign experience after seeking a bid for the GOP nomination for president, with some referring to her as the “Tea Party Queen.”
“Congresswoman Bachmann campaigns on her record of results in Congress and a dedication to conservative principles,” says Chase Kroll, Bachmann’s campaign manager. “She is working on solutions for the issues our constituents face: energy costs, unemployment, and burdensome regulation.”
Bachmann also enjoys the strong support from the state GOP.
“Michele Bachmann is increasingly a power within the Minnesota Republican party,” says Larry Jacobs, a professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota. “When she first started she was on the fringe, and now she is on the throne.”
But Bachmann approaches her re-election without a strong record of getting much done in Washington. Recently a bill she sponsored to build a bridge from Minnesota to Wisconsin passed out of the House of Representatives. But while she was running for president, Bachmann was repeatedly criticized for having never had any of her sponsored legislation signed into law.
“I got into the race because I think America can do better,” Graves says. “I think Michele Bachmann is part of the problem and not the solution in Washington. The antagonistic approach, the polarization, and all the gridlock is not a good thing.”
Graves also faces a fundraising disadvantage. While campaign finance reports show his campaign has just over $85,000 on hand, Bachmann’s congressional campaign is sitting on $642,480.
Reports also show that Graves is one of three vying for the Democratic nomination in the sixth district, but neither Brian Joseph McGoldrick nor Anne Nolan seem to have established campaigns that could compete against Graves or Bachmann.
In the first quarter, the FEC reports show Nolan had less than $5,000 on hand and McGoldrick appears to have nothing on hand.
Bachmann’s deep coffers have come after she has made strong appeals to her network of national supporters, even issuing a May E-mail asking for donations to help her defeat the “liberal judges” who she says redistricted her in an effort to “wipe [her] off the political map once and for all.”
In fact, three of the five redistricting judges were appointed under a Republican or independent governor.
“Michele Bachmann likes to have a lot of cash around her,” says Jacobs. “She likes to have it in reserve in case something happens.”
Graves says he is not concerned about being outspent, adding that his fundraising efforts have only just begun.
“We just effectively started really fundraising six days ago,” Graves says. “There is no question that Michele Bachmann is a virtual ATM machine and is going to raise a lot of money. We just need enough money to get our message out, and I am confident we will raise that.”
Graves says he’s not opposed to self-financing a portion of his campaign, but that isn’t the message he wants to send to voters.
“I’d like to see the sixth district get some skin in the game,” he says. “Getting them to support me and getting them on my team is the whole point.”
Graves was raised in St. Cloud, Minnesota and attended St. Cloud College. He was one of six kids and says he earned an appreciation for hard work early in his life that helped him launch a motel chain and eventually allowed him the opportunity to break into the high-end hotel market.
Before he decided to take on Bachmann, Graves’ pet project was 601 Graves, a luxury hotel in Minneapolis that Travel + Leisure selected as one of its 500 best hotels.
On the issues, Graves says he is a moderate Democrat with a smattering of libertarian ideals who believes in free enterprise and prefers to stay away from letting social issues dominate a campaign.
“The role of a congressman isn’t to get engaged in social or moral issues,” he says. “I want to focus on jobs and the economy. Efficient government is extremely important and those core values will resonate with the people in the sixth district.”
Bachmann’s campaign isn’t writing off the challenge. Bachmann recognizes Graves will be a competitor, but is confident the Congresswoman’s commitment to conservative ideals will keep her in office.
“Democrats would like to have the sixth district and we expect them to be active in this race,” Kroll says. “But time has proven that our constituents support the conservative solutions to create jobs, lower taxes, reduce government involvement and promote liberty.”