By David Bailey
MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, known for controversial comments and a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, was locked in a tight race for re-election with Democratic challenger businessman Jim Graves early on Wednesday.
Bachmann led Graves by 720 votes out of more than 269,000 cast in the Minnesota 6th Congressional District with about 79 percent of precincts reporting, according to unofficial Minnesota state elections returns.
A champion of Tea Party backers of smaller government and conservative on social issues such as abortion and gay rights, Bachmann was running in what has been regarded as the most conservative-leaning district in Minnesota.
Her bid for the Republican presidential nomination until early in 2012 raised her name recognition nationally, but left her vulnerable to accusations by Graves that she was not representing district interests.
Her remarks, including an insistence on a link between an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Muslim Brotherhood, were denounced by some in her own party.
Bachmann, a former Minnesota state senator, has never won more than 53 percent of the vote in the district and won by only 3 percentage points in the last presidential election year of 2008.
The redrawing of districts after the 2010 census put Bachmann, who lives in Stillwater near the Minnesota border with Wisconsin, outside of the sprawling district that takes in suburbs to the east, north and west of Minneapolis and St. Paul and stretches northwest to include farms and smaller cities.
It was the nation's most expensive House race in terms of both money raised and spent by the candidates as of mid October, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The candidates had raised a total of $22.7 million and spent $20.8, the center reported, but Bachmann had outspent Graves by more than twelve-to-one.
Bachmann sought to tag Graves, founder of the AmericInn hotel chain and now the head of Graves Hospitality, as a supporter of President Barack Obama's health reform law in television ads early in the campaign.
Later Bachmann commercials portrayed the congresswoman as focused on the needs of district residents and able to work across party lines to reach goals.
Graves, who describes himself as fiscally conservative, has said there are positives in the Obama healthcare program, but the "heavy lifting" has not yet begun. Graves also has said he believes Bachmann has been ineffective as a congresswoman.
(Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)