Bachmann challenger Jim Graves speaks on witch hunt

Bachmann's challenger tells Salon the Congresswoman's anti-Muslim campaign is "disgusting" and "dangerous"

Published July 21, 2012 7:00PM (EDT)

Jim Graves is a wealthy Minneapolis hotelier who got so fed up with Rep. Michele Bachmann that he decided to run against her. The Democratic nominee talks with Salon about why he thinks Bachmann's "disgusting" and "dangerous" Muslim witch hunt that may cost her her political career.

What’s your reaction to what we’ve been calling Bachmann’s "witch hunt" against Muslims in the government?

It’s definitely a witch hunt. It’s really terrible. It’s really disgusting. It’s horrible. I mean, quite frankly, America’s better than that. We shouldn’t be talking like this. We should be doing things constructively. They're baseless allegations. They’re inflammatory. They’re divisive. They’re all the things that we don’t want in America.

She has a long history of making these kind of outlandish claims. Do you think voters care? Will it actually mean something in November?

I don’t think -- I know that for a fact. I’m out in the district. I’m talking to people daily. People are disgusted and tired of the division, they’re really ready for a change. The polling has been very favorable. It indicates that the negatives are very high on Michele Bachmann’s comments and the way that she governs.

You have internal polling showing that?

Yes we do. She is not polling very well when it comes to the way that she conducts business in Washington. And the people don’t feel that she’s representing them. They feel that she’s propagating a political agenda that doesn’t relate to the district’s needs. She has a celebrity status, but that doesn’t mean anything to people at home.

Do you think she really believes this stuff? What’s her angle?

I think it’s all part of the persona that she wants to present to her base. I hate to be cynical about it, but I think it all relates to fundraising and the drafting of her national base and her taking a lot of money from around the country. I think these kinds of statements have been very good for her in [terms of] raising money.

But I think this time it was a little too calculated, and it’s going to come back to roost because, quite frankly, she’s gonna have to put up or shut up, and the facts are just not going to substantiate her claims. And she’s doubling down, she’s making accusations against her fellow Minnesotan congressman Keith Ellison that he’s associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. And she’s again going further and further into the deep, and, quite frankly, I don’t get it. I don’t understand it, but that’s what she’s doing.

But you think she may have gone too far this time? When you have John Boehner and John McCain and other Republicans coming out against her statements ... ?

I think she’s on her last three months in Congress. I think this election is definitely going to show that people want to change. When you look at Boehner and Senator McCain and Rubio and Ed Rollins, this is a bipartisan coming together that enough is enough. This is a very dangerous thing. To instill fear within the government -- I mean this is beyond bizarre; this is getting dangerous.

If the election were today, before this whole Muslim Brotherhood thing, we would have won the election. We were bascially neck-and-neck, and were pretty certain the independents would have gone our way. Now, we’re very confident.

Why do you think you have a better chance this year than other challengers in previous years?

She’s never run into a business-savvy job creator that bases policy on facts. And she’s never gone one-on-one. Before this year, there’s always been an independent candidate that’s complicated the picture. This year, it’s Michele Bachmann against one candidate. And the Independent Party leaders have been coming into my campaign and actually campaigning with me. So this is going to be a whole different kind of election. In 2008, the candidate who ran against her, a fellow named Elwyn Tinklenberg, lost by three percentage points. And then an Independent Party candidate got 10.1 percent of the vote. He’s not in this race. It’s a one-on-one. And her negatives are up.

Also, in 2008, the Democrat was running with a fellow named Al Franken -- now Senator Franken. He won, but it was very very close. There was a recall and all that. But what’s going to happen this time is we have the most popular candidate in all Minnesota running alongside of me, who is Senator Amy Klobuchar. She’s very very popular. She’s going to carry the 6th District. She took it in 2006 against a two-time congressional incumbent from the district by 5.1 percent. And this time, most of the polling says it’s going to be well into the double digits. And we very much have the same platforms, the same policy views, and the same means of governing. So there’s a lot of updraft from that.

So you’ve been a businessman, starting one chain of successful hotels and then another, along with several other businesses -- what made you want to get involved in politics?

That’s a good question. Primarily -- actually, I should say solely -- it’s because of Michele Bachmann.  I watched from afar and was kind of hoping that a strong candidate would come out and run against her. But I saw no one who was going to take us across the finish line.

Then, one night I was watching Chris Matthews, and he said, "Where are the good people of America, why aren’t they taking on public service roles? It’s because it’s too nasty, it’s too crazy, it’s divisive, it’s downright ugly." That got me thinking. And I thought, "Doggonit, I’ve lived a good life. This country has afforded me an opportunity to work hard and achieve with much success, and it’s my turn to give back."

By Alex Seitz-Wald

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