Democrat Jim Graves was feeling good as he sat down for an interview with Salon in Washington Monday, the same day his campaign released a poll showing him two points ahead of Rep. Michele Bachmann, whom he narrowly lost to in 2012.
This time around, he'll start with higher-name ID -- "I think we started off last time around at 18 percent and now we're pushing 75 to 80 percent" -- and more support from national Democrats, who were initially skeptical about his chances and didn't get heavily involved until mid-October. "I don't think they jumped in at all," Graves quipped of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, before quickly excusing them in a typical Minnesota-nice fashion: "There was lower-hanging fruit, I don't blame them."
For the 2014 campaign, President Obama has promised to get more involved in House races, after largely sitting on the sidelines in 2012 and 2010, but Graves may not want the help. "We're running a pretty independent campaign," Graves said when asked if he'd like Obama to visit the district. "I think that the president's cup is full; he's got to stick with what he's got to do, and we respect that, and we're going to have to do what we have to do out in the district."
It’s not surprising that Graves would want to distance himself from Obama, considering the district gave Mitt Romney 56 percent of the vote compared to just 41 percent for Obama in 2012. It leans strongly Republican, with a Cook Partisan Voting Index of Republican +7.
Despite running against one of the most controversial members of Congress, Graves insists he has no plans to run negative campaign ads and says he's "been staying pretty afar" from Bachmann's growing ethics scandals. Instead, Graves is trying to present himself as a pragmatic and solution-oriented alternative to Bachmann's bluster. "We're going to Washington to make a change, not to make a statement," he says.
He can count on outside groups like the House Majority PAC and others to pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into the district, mostly in negative ads.
And negative campaigning doesn't seem to fit with Graves' even temperament. He loves tax policy and is deeply versed in the subject, thanks to his years running the successful hospitality business he started, and he has dreams of sitting on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. "But let's not get a ahead of ourselves on that yet," he says. First he has to win.