MINNEAPOLIS (AP/WCCO) — U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann is headed back to Washington, but the tea-party favorite's toughest race yet suggests a new vulnerability in the wake of her failed presidential run.
Bachmann barely won a fourth term despite vastly outspending an upstart Democrat running his first race. She turned out to be less popular with her constituents than GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney or even a gay marriage ban she championed.
Bachmann seemed to acknowledge as much Wednesday, promising a "laser-like" focus on her job.
"In my next term, I'll continue to work every day to create jobs for the people in my district and for the people in our nation, while doing everything I can to be an unwavering voice in Washington for our constitutional conservative values," Bachmann said in a statement.
She didn't respond to interview requests.
Bachmann beat wealthy but politically inexperienced hotelier Jim Graves by barely 4,200 votes, or a little over a percentage point, in the 6th District, which sprawls north and west from Minneapolis suburbs toward St. Cloud.
Before she got to Congress, Bachmann made a name for herself in the state Senate for her early efforts to write a gay-marriage ban into the state constitution. But she drew nearly 17,000 fewer votes in her district Tuesday than the proposed amendment banning gay marriage. And she drew nearly 27,000 fewer votes in the 6th than Mitt Romney, who carried the district with 56 percent of the vote.
Graves stressed his business experience and his record of job creation. During the campaign, he accused Bachmann of being more concerned about advancing her national political aspirations than serving the district.
Bachmann failed to capitalize on a substantial fundraising advantage over Graves. She also may have been hurt by provocative statements over the summer when she linked a top aide to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to the Muslim Brotherhood and suggested Islamic fundamentalists were infiltrating high levels of the government. Even some in her own party criticized her.
Before this week, the candidate who gave Bachmann her strongest challenge was Elwyn Tinklenberg, a former state transportation commissioner who finished 3 percentage points behind her in 2008, when an Independence Party candidate drew 10 percent of the vote. Tuesday's race was the first without a third-party candidate to siphon off anti-Bachmann votes.
Tinklenberg said Bachmann needs to focus on serving the district and the issues facing it if she's going to keep her seat.
"Clearly, the conservative agenda she has fits with most of the district. People will understand and accept it — as long as she's taking care of the local issues. They'll give her some latitude in terms of some of the more conservative elements of her value system," Tinklenberg said.
Bachmann might take solace in nearly surviving a broad shellacking of Minnesota Republicans on Tuesday. The GOP lost both houses of the Legislature, the U.S. Senate race and a U.S. House seat, and voters rejected two amendments backed by the party. They preferred Obama over Romney, too.
Despite her narrow win, and despite a presidential campaign that ended when she finished last in the Iowa precinct caucuses, Bachmann still has a national following among tea party and social conservatives who look to her for leadership.
The anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List issued a statement Wednesday calling her a "pro-life hero" and one of the movement's "most-trusted and valued allies in Washington."
Political analyst Larry Jacob says even though Graves lost, Bachmann's victory was a signal to Democrats that even the conservative 6th District might hold hope for the right candidate.
"Michele Bachmann," he said, "can be taken on, and with a bit more money and organization perhaps be beaten."
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