Sixth Congressional District candidates Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann and Democratic challenger Jim Graves debated Thursday for a second time, less than a week before Election Day.
On paper, Bachmann should have the race for a fourth term sewn up. She represents the most Republican-leaning district in the state. And thanks to her fundraising prowess, Bachmann's campaign has more than $3 million on hand for the final stretch.
But after a failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination and a reputation for making controversial, and sometimes false, statements, Democrats think they have a candidate who can unseat her in the form of Graves.
The wealthy businessman and first-time candidate describes himself as a moderate who will focus more on the district, which spans the northern Twin Cities suburbs and the St. Cloud area, than on his national profile.
The debate, moderated by MPR News' Kerri Miller on The Daily Circuit program, was mostly focused on national issues. Neither candidate said much about anything specific to the 6th District.
They clashed often, beginning with abortion. Republican candidates nationwide have come under scrutiny for their positions regarding abortion in the case of rape. When Miller asked about her stance on the subject, Bachmann answered this way:
"I believe that there needs to be an exception for the life of the mother but other than that..."
Miller: "But not of rape?"
Bachmann: "I stand by the position I've held for 40 years."
Graves opposed that position, arguing that women, not the government, should make the decision. He also said he favored policies such as equal pay for women, better day care and maternity leave.
"I want to basically get rid of all those needs why a woman would have to have an abortion," Graves said.
On the subject of health care, Bachmann repeated her long-standing opposition to the 2010 health care law, saying it was too intrusive and didn't do anything to reduce health care costs.
"The best way you can do that after you repeal, because that's the first step, is to allow every American wherever they live in the United States to buy any health insurance plan they want anywhere in America with no minimum requirements," Bachmann said.
Many health care analysts worry that such an approach would lead to insurers offering cheap plans with minimal coverage in whichever states offered the least regulation. But Graves has been wary of endorsing the health care law in a heavily Republican district and said he could envision voting to repeal it under some circumstances.
"If there's something better, yes," he said. "I'm not dodging the question."
Miller: "So in principle you agree with the Affordable Care Act, on principle you like it?"
Graves: "No, in principle it's a process not a destination."
The candidates also sparred on the subject of the 2008 financial and auto industry bailouts. Bachmann used her opposition to the bailouts to argue that she was an independent voice in the Republican party, willing to defy the then-president and treasury secretary on a matter of principle.
"I didn't believe George Bush and I didn't believe Hank Paulsen that we looking at a financial Armageddon," Bachmann said.
Graves countered that Bachmann's position was irresponsible.
"If we would have let the entire financial industry collapse, like Michele Bachmann wanted, you could have not taken your credit card and bought groceries at the grocery story. Everything would have froze up," Graves said.
Graves and Bachmann also tangled on fiscal policy and balancing the federal budget. Bachmann has endorsed the plan put forward by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who's also the GOP's vice-presidential candidate, that would transform Medicare from a government-run health plan to one in which the government gives seniors a fixed amount to buy health insurance.
Graves said that plan would raise costs for retirees. But Graves said he would consider requiring higher-income seniors to pay more for Medicare, a position that puts him at odds with many of the Democrats he would like to join in Congress.
The candidates will meet for one last debate Sunday morning hosted by television station KSTP.
Review the live blog at MPR News.
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With Election Day five days away, Kerri Miller moderated a final debate on The Daily Circuit Thursday with the candidates for Minnesota's 6th District. Republican incumbent Michele Bachmann is being challenged by Democrat Jim Graves, owner of the Graves 601 Hotel in Minneapolis.
Jim Graves and Michele Bachmann at MPR News HQ in St Paul debating issues facing Minnesota's 6th District. Photo by Anthony Kwan
Latest from MPR News:
Bachmann, Graves clash over issues in 1st debate
Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann faced Democrat Jim Graves for the first time Tuesday in a debate that featured clashes over taxes, health care and a bridge that isn't even part of Minnesota's 6th District to the north and west of Minneapolis.
LIVE BLOG: Bachmann, Graves debate in St. Cloud
Republican incumbent Michele Bachmann faces DFL challenger Jim Graves in their first congressional debate.
Businessman Jim Graves is new type of challenge for Bachmann
Bachmann's national profile elevated since last congressional run
Bachmann and Graves debate on @DailyCircuit at 11. Tune in: bit.ly
Both Bachmann and Graves have arrived at MPR studios. Wasn't quick enough with my camera though. #mn06 debate to begin in minutes.
What do you hope to hear from Bachmann, Graves in the #mn06 MPR debate?
Take an issue survey and see if it challenges who you support in the 6th District: Select-a-Candidate
Folks in the live blog are looking pretty decided in who they support. What is the most important issue to you in this race? Submit your issue as a comment. Keep it civil, please.
Bachmann and Graves settling in for the @dailycircuit debate. instagr.am
Women's issues initial focus of the debate.
Bachmann on requiring women to see and listen to heartbeat of embryo before getting an abortion: It allows them to have all the information they need to make a decision.
Cont. Bachmann: It gives them the info to let them make a better decision.
Bachmann on fetal heartbeat bill gives women more information, choices by hearing and seeing heartbeat before possible abortion. #mn06
Bachmann on abortion exceptions: There should be an exception for the life of the mother. #mn06
Bachmann: 52 million lives is a lot. My position is inline with the Catholic church. "It hasn't changed."
Graves on abortion: It is between a woman's family and her god.
Who is going to pay for the ultrasound?
Bachmann pressed on if she wants her position added into the U.S. Constitution. Returns to statement, "I do believe that live needs to be protected." Adding "Roe v. Wade changed our country forever." We've lost 52 million people. "That is why I support person hood."
Bachmann on in vitro fertilization: I'm not taking a position on that. "My basic position is that I support life."
The moderator is great
Graves: "I want to find common ground and move this country forward. I disagree with [Bachmann's] approach. ... We need to help women." Cites equal-pay equal work, longer maternity leave.
Bachmann asked how a personhood amendment might affect IVF treatments, Bachmann said she might consider "waivers."
Do you know who you will support in the 6th District race?
Graves asked about health care law. Says he doesn't support repeal of it unless/until he hears better solution. #mn06
Jim Graves doubles down on Obamacare. Says he wouldn't repeal it. #mn06
Graves: "Repeal (Obamacare) if you've got something better. I haven't heard anything better. Let's move forward." #mn06
NPR moderator points out that the CBO most certainly did not say Obamacare will cost 800,000 jobs, as Bachmann claims.
Bachmann says she wants to rescind Obamacare. People in "nervous" about the reforms, claims plan will cost 800,000 jobs will be lost.
"No, that isn't true at all," Graves says, in response to everything Michele Bachmann just said about health care reform.
Bachmann insists that healthcare costs are going up because companies are anticipating cost increases because of healthcare reforms.
"Already, premiums have gone up" because of Obamacare, Bachmann says. Moderator points out that the bulk of the law isn't in effect yet.
Join MPR News Thursday at 11:00a for the second debate between incumbent Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann and Democrat Jim Graves.
Photo: Democratic challenger Jim Graves, left, and Republican incumbent Michele Bachmann answer questions during a 6th District debate. MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson
Miller to Graves: Do you have better ideas on health care? Incentives based on outcome, not procedure. "That's a big undertaking," she says.
Graves says crackdown on fraud needed in health care system. Miller points out fraud is frequently discussed, but little comes of it #mn06
Bachmann wants people to be able to shop across state lines for health insurance.
Bachmann says the auto bailout was not a success, says taxpayers still haven't gotten all their money back.
#politifact took on @michelebachmann 's claim on 800K jobs lost due to #Obamacare last year - rated it mostly false www.politifact.com
Graves does some dancing on healthcare, calls ACA "a process not a destination" #mncd06
Next topic: auto bailout. @teambachmann says govt still out $25B. Context: feds still owns stakes Chrysler/GM so final total will be smaller
"We still are out about $25 billion." Bachmann stands by her vote against the auto bailout. "We prevented them from an orderly bankruptcy."
Bachmann calls auto bailout a bailout of the unions on @dailycircuit debate #mncd06
Bachmann echoes Romney on auto bailout re: managed bankruptcy.
Bachmann notes US didn't bail out (Japanese) automakers Honda or Toyota.
During @mprnews debate, @Graves4Congress backs auto bailout says "sometimes you have to hold your nose" and do it #mncd06
Bachmann notes auto bailout was a case where she defied her party during @dailycircuit #mncd06 debate
Bachmann getting more speaking time here...
Bachmann: I want these jobs in America but I don't think we needed to do that with a bailout from the federal government. #mn06 #autobailout
Bachmann she worked in "a very bipartisan way" to oppose the Wall Street bailout.
Graves: if the entire financial industry had collapsed, "like Michele Bachmann wanted," world economy would have collapsed.
Bachmann says she didn't believe economy would collapse if Wall St were bailed out during @dailycircuit #mncd06 debate
"I voted for the Ryan plan, which is not legislation but a set of principles." Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Bachmann says she supports the Ryan plan for Medicare. Supports free market concepts to save the system.
"We are going to have to look at some means testing." Jim Graves on fixing Medicare.
Hmmm, @Graves4Congress says during @dailycircuit debate that he would consider means testing #Medicare. Not many Dems talking about that.
No local issues coming up during this debate. No mention of Stillwater bridge, economy of the 6th CD etc. Lotsa Medicare, Ryan budget etc.
"Free market principles. That's what I embrace." Michele Bachmann on Medicare.
re: Medicare drug prices - @teambachmann says she supports competition but not govt negotiating drug prices w/pharma industry
The history of how Jonas Salk cured polio. www.achievement.org Mentioned by Michele Bachmann.
"Have we forgotten the $800,000 outhouse?" asks Bachmann, referencing government waste's greatest hits.
Lotta crosstalk here.
"Can we have a yes or no?" Graves asks Bachmann. Bachmann responds with a monologue that contains neither word.
Re; Soc Sec @Graves4Congress says payroll tax cap on Soc Sec earnings should go. @teambachmann calls its enormous tax hike and job killer
#Bachmann: Lifting Social Security earnings cap would kill jobs. #mn06.
#Bachmann in response to mod's question about how ending cap kills jobs: Job creators would have less money. #mn06
Graves blames Bachmann for budget deficit and embraces Simpson Bowles commission findings. @dailycircuit #mncd06
"The job creators will have less money for investment, less money for savings," and Social Security would still go bankrupt, says Bachmann.
Bachmann says no political party has monopoly on good ideas and says she's worked across the aisle. #mncd06
Bachmann says she agrees with Graves' call for more transparency in healthcare, so patients can shop around for procedures like lasik.
Graves says he backs GOP "No More Solyndra" bill and E-verify. reaching for some #commonground here as @dailycircuit debate wraps up.
Th-th-th-that's all folks, the @dailycircuit debate between @teambachmann & @Graves4Congress is done. Listen for my story tonight on @mpr
More coverage on the Bachmann-Graves from MPR News.
Is there a link for people to listen to the debate later?
Hi Kristen, yep, the audio will be posted here in about an hour.
Tom Webber got another pre-debate photo. twitpic.com
In case you missed it, audio from Bachmann/Graves debate on @DailyCircuit is now online bit.ly
Kerri did a great job moderating the debate....sounds like it was a bit tough at times to get a specific answer from rep. Bachman, but Carri did good simplifying the questions for Rep. Bachman. I wish Jim Graves got more air time to respond to the questions and explain his position only because his answers had substance in them instead of rep. Bachmans political rant
Good Debate...Nice job Kerri!
Kerri Miller is the BEST moderator - way to go on making them answer and not letting them slide with the facts.