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Conservative Bachmann wins tight House race

By David Bailey

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, known for controversial comments and a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, was projected to win re-election over Democratic challenger businessman Jim Graves early on Wednesday.

Bachmann led Graves by 3,256 votes - or just under 1 percentage point - out of more than 351,000 votes cast in the Minnesota 6th Congressional District with 98.2 percent of precincts reporting, according to unofficial state elections returns.

Minnesota law only requires a recount if the margin of victory is less than half a percentage point. CNN projected Bachmann the winner.

A champion of the Tea Party movement for 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 2012 Republican presidential nomination raised her name recognition nationally, but left her vulnerable in her race for a fourth term to accusations by Graves that she was not representing district interests.

Some of 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 and Vicki Allen)

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