Is the Bachmann-Graves race as close as the narrative suggests?

It’s always interesting to have the national media drop in on congressional districts in Minnesota to capture the sentiment of flyover country.

CNN today sent Wayne Drash to assess how things are going in Minnesota’s 6th District, where Michele Bachmann is being challenged by Jim Graves in the redrawn, and now more conservative, district.

Step one: Make the area seem nutty:

Jim Graves strolled down Main Street in his pressed shirt with French cuffs and skinny jeans, a dapper enigma in a land of flannels and Wranglers. He stuck out his hand to introduce himself to a ruffian in a wheelchair scooter.

The two talked politics before the stranger confessed he’s an anarchist who believes Americans should be allowed to kill three people a day. “That would take care of the idiots REALLLLLL fast,” the man said with a chuckle.

Check. Step two. Offer only the political polling that confirms the basis for the story in the first place.

Drash admits he doesn’t cover politics but offers this…

It’s impossible to know just how close the race is, though apparently it’s tightening. Two non-partisan political handicappers — the Cook Political Report and the Rothenberg Political Report — have moved their ranking of the contest from likely Republican earlier this year to now lean Republican.

It’s really not that difficult to know how close the race is.

The Star Tribune poll just two days ago showed Bachmann with a 6 percentage point lead. A Survey USA poll showed a 9-percentage point lead for Bachmann.

But the CNN article notes only challenger Graves’ internal polling showing the difference between the two candidates is within a couple of points, but it had a high margin of error and internal polls are often unreliable. Why more independent polling was left out of the story we can only guess. It wasn’t hard to find out about them.

The national media is describing the race as Bachmann’s biggest challenge yet. They may be right, but at the moment it’s more media narrative than fact. True, Bachmann won the race in 2010 over Taryl Clark easily (by almost 13%), and far more moderate cities were in the district back then.

But her toughest yet? Not yet.

That would be 2008, when El Tinklenberg came just 12,000 votes from ending Bachmann’s political career, thanks in large part to a last minute Bachmann gaffe in which she questioned the patriotism of Barack Obama, in a district where some of the larger cities voted Obama. Those cities have now been banished to the 4th District.

The article notes that DFLers think the chances of knocking off Bachmann are better this year because there’s no third party candidate to siphon independent votes, but by ignoring the two independent polls, the fact that independents are nearly evenly split between Bachmann and Graves goes unstated.

The fact Bachmann is in a close race at all in a district that was tailor-made for a Republican does show a vulnerability not previously calculated. However, the polls also show that there aren’t many who haven’t already made up their mind in the race and both polls showed that even if all the few undecideds go with Bachmann’s challenger, it doesn’t put him over the top. That doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen, of course, but the extent of the challenge can’t be minimized for dramatic effect.

Drash on Twitter referred to his story as “a fun little story,” but here in flyover country, it’s a pretty serious sort of thing.

  • mark

    CNN has a global infrastructure, none of which is used in the CNN US broadcasts. CNN has become Tosh.0 (an excuse to show videos) without the jokes. Why are you expecting any journalistic integrity from these folks? They are story conveyers, nothing more.

  • BJ

    Jim Graves reminds me of Alex Hogan. Except Alex win’s against the conservative nut bag, but it’s because he has a great campaign team, Jim doesn’t.

  • JackU

    Polls are one thing, but you can get a sense of what a campaign thinks of itself by the television ads they run. Based on what I’ve seen that means Michelle Bachmann is scared of Jim Graves. Most of the advertising by the campaigns in the 6th district has been about Graves. His own ads and Bachmann’s. I don’t remember seeing one Bachmann ad that talks about her, her record and what she will do in the next two years for the 6th District. The ads of hers that I remember are the ones linking Graves to the “Washington free spending liberals” and how he’ll fit right in. This says to me that she can’t run on her record and/or she has nothing to offer the redrawn 6th. As a counter example John Kline and Chip Cravack appear in their ads that show up on Twin Cities TV.

    That said, CNN is in the 6th district because their viewers outside of Minnesota know who Bachmann is and most likely have an opinion about her one way or the other. Taking about the 8th district race, which might be a closer contest, doesn’t make sense since most of their viewers don’t know either of the players in the race.

  • Bob Collins

    I don’t know that that’s a significant barometer, Jack. In the last go-round, Bachmann’s ads were about “Taxin’ Taryl.” She ended up blowing her doors off.

    I view it as kind of the typical red meat template.

  • BJ

    Agreed Bob.

    If Patty Wetterling couldn’t beat her, I don’t know who can.

    Bachmann’s using the same successful strategies from the last 2 elections (El & Tarryl ). I don’t recall what she did against Wetterling, but it was an open seat. I recall some ad that questioned Wetterling on Foreign Policy.

    I think Bachmann is beatable. Just not by the strategy Mr Graves’ team has put together. Maybe if he runs in 2 years.

  • David Johnson

    Why is everyone ignoring the cash factor?

  • Jack Van Sant

    The last time I looked, and admittedly it has been a while, Survey USA was discredited as a flimsy excuse for research. Please, collectively, news media verify if these folks are even worth citing.

    These used to be the folks that had local news outlets make up questions, record the questions, and had them robo-called to unsuspecting folks dumb enough to answer the phone.

    Please verify.

  • Of course, this is true. A needed dose of reality.

  • Bob Collins

    // Please, collectively, news media verify if these folks are even worth citing.

    Already done. First, it assumes that we can all agree that Nate Silver is a legitimate arbiter on these matters. If we don’t accept that, I don’t you. Nate Silver is a statistical god.

    In 2010, he found that Quinnipiac and Survey USA were the more accurate in the Senate races, and Rasmussen was the most flawed.

    In the Mn gov’s race that year, Survey USA had Dayton at 42 percent, Emmer at 37 percent, Tom Horner had 14 percent.

    The final was 43.6 Dayton, Emmer 43.2, and Horner, 11.9. I think there’s some basis for saying that’s accurate as the poll was conducted a week before the election and people bail on third party candidates in the week before an election.

    Here is the methodology.

  • BJ

    Survey USA has had, in Minnesota, a pretty good track record. Has a slight right over sample but not bad. I can’t find the story now, but I think their average ‘off’ rate was the best in 2008 around 0.9 % off, with only a few ‘missed’ calls. Nate Silver had them rated great for 2006 cycle I think at one point.

    Most polling company’s have the clients chose the questions being asked. Usually the client has a pollster figure out the best way to word the questions. A polling company may or may not have a pollster.

    Again the client will drive ship, since they are paying.

    Gallop and some of these others that poll do a few big ‘free’ polls. Free to get press for the other services they have or to sell a subscription to get the details or cross-tabs.

  • BJ

    Looks like Bob found the research I was looking for. But since mine links (in my other post) are from 2008, I can say I don’t think SurveyUSA has ever been considered “discredited as a flimsy excuse for research” as suggested above.

  • Bruce

    Sounds like this is a horse race only in the media, the gerrymandering’s just too high a hurdle to overcome. Sigh. Was wishing for an upset. Her challenger seems so reasonable. Don’t respect the media if they’re falsely raising our expectations with suspect polls.

    Some day I’ll have to take a journey to this district (might take a month to follow the twists and turns) and speak with the fine folk who support someone reminiscent of Joe McCarthy. Maybe it’s flattering to have your rep constantly on FOX with a national presence, no matter what that presence might be. One can hope it isn’t because of her extremism.

  • Robert Moffitt

    Are any of the other commenters actually from the 6th? Well, I am.

    Graves is a decent enough candidate, but frankly the deck is stacked against him — just as the deck is stacked against Ellison’s and McCollum’s Republican challengers. Gerrymandering cuts both ways, you know.

    I’ll make this predicition: Graves may not upset Bachmann, but he will come closer than the GOP challengers in Minneapolis and St. Paul will.

  • Jack Van Sant

    Thanks for checking this. I worked for the Hubbard empire back when Survey USA was in its infancy and it was a sketchy product at the time. I’m talking about the late 90’s.

    I recall newspaper articles questioning the accuracy, specifically what was then a three-question demographic panel (gender, age, zip code?). Given that newsroom staff were writing questions I didn’t doubt it the criticism.

    I believe the “right over sample” comment above. But given the assurances above I will stop automatically distrusting their product. Thank you.

  • Brad Arnold

    Oh well, Rep. Bachmann is a gift that keeps on giving to the Democratic party. She is really farther right than most of her constituents, but there appears to be A LOT of outside MN money supporting her candidacy. Boy am I glad I don’t live in the 6th District (I hear if you call up her office asking for help, the first question they ask is what party you support).

  • BJ

    Brad – the 5th is almost that bad. I’ve called twice and they argue with me about my position on a bill. No hint that my voice will reach the Congressman.

  • Janelle

    I hope what Brad said about calling Bachmann’s office isn’t true. A Representative’s job is to work for all the people of the district, even if they don’t always agree with you or vote for you. Jim Graves had his work cut out for him, just introducing himself. Love her or hate her, everyone knows who Michele Bachmann is. If Jim doesn’t win this time I think he should try again. By then, more people will be familiar with him and I’m sure Bachmann will say many more embarrassing things in the next two years.