At the start of this year, Michele Bachmann had hopes of clinching the Republican presidential nomination. Now, she will do well to win the House of Representatives seat in Minnesota she has occupied for six years.
The Tea Party favourite is locked in the fight of her political life with businessman Jim Graves, the Democratic challenger in the state’s newly redrawn sixth district, which encompasses the central portions of the state north of the Twin Cities.
Since being elected to Congress in 2006, the resilient Ms Bachmann has made a habit of defeating well-funded Democratic opponents.
She has this year been able to parlay her national celebrity status and controversial reputation into ceiling-shattering fundraising figures. Her haul is projected to be nearly $15m by election day, meaning she is outspending her opponent 12-1.
But her standing as one of the most high-profile conservatives has made Democrats eager to oust her, and they hope they have found their man in Mr Graves, a centrist with pro-business credentials, a social libertarian streak and the funding to compete with the Bachmann machine.
“The race is certainly Bachmann’s to lose, but Graves is clearly the most formidable candidate she’s ever faced,” says Larry Jacobs, a University of Minnesota political scientist.
Mr Graves had been able to successfully use Ms Bachmann’s celebrity status against her by portraying her as out of touch with the district and someone who prioritised her presidential bid over Congressional duties, Mr Jacobs said.
While recent polls showing Ms Bachmann leading by anywhere between 2 and 9 per cent, Democrats are confident they are within striking distance.
“Those polls were all conducted over landlines, so they’re most likely omitting the young voters that we’re going after,” Mr Graves told the FT in a telephone interview, maintaining optimism that he is well positioned for an upset.
To help get out the vote, Mr Graves received some high-octane help on the stump on Sunday from former President Bill Clinton.
“Clinton has a sterling reputation in the state’s northern regions,” says Mr Jacobs. “People look at him and they see this upstanding brand of liberalism that they remember from the ‘90s.”
However, the news of Mr Clinton’s arrival hardly has Team Bachmann shaking in their boots.
“Clinton will help our voter turnout efforts just as much as he helps theirs,” says Chase Kroll, Ms Bachmann’s campaign manager. “They brought in Clinton to campaign against us in 2010 and we still won by 13 points.”
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