Less than a year ago, Rep. Michele Bachmann was traveling the country, making her case to be the Republican Party's presidential nominee. Today, six weeks out from that long-awaited election, she's caught in an unexpectedly tight race to keep her seat in Congress.
Bachmann's challenger, Minnesota hotel magnate Jim Graves, 58, entered the fray in early April, quickly rallying state Democrats to his side and, perhaps more importantly, convincing Independence Party leaders and candidates to stay out of the mix, putting as much as 10 percent of the electorate -- more than Bachmann's margin of victory in two of her three races -- back up for grabs.
"This district has the most independents in the state," Graves told ABC News. "So we went to the Independence Party and asked, 'Can you guys help us out a little bit?' Well they said, 'We like you, Graves, we'll support you.'"
Though he hasn't received an official endorsement from Minnesota's largest "third party," their decision to stand down, which Independence Party leader Mark Jenkins insists was made before Graves joined the race, has allowed the Democrat to focus exclusively on the Bachmann campaign.
"The primary exposed her DNA," Graves said. "She doesn't grasp the big picture and, in deference to her, she's never been in business. She goes after the bank bailouts, but is against Dodd-Frank and any new regulations."
He also believes Bachmann's divisive national political figure has complicated her standing in Minnesota's 6th district, which sits on top of the Twin Cities metro region like a crown. A recent poll commissioned by the Democrat shows Bachmann with a two-point lead (48-46 percent), within the margin of error.
In 2010, during the Tea Party surge, she won by nearly 13 points.
Graves cites a "downdraft" created by Bachmann's controversial letter-writing mission to remove alleged "Islamist" infiltrators from U.S. government positions as another development breaking in his favor.
"I think it was a ploy to raise money and bring out the base," he said. "Even her own party came out against her. Senator McCain, Speaker Boehner… fearmongering is not going to bring jobs to this economy."
The self-described fiscal moderate and social libertarian repeatedly linked Bachmann to Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., the Republican vice presidential nominee.
"You can't play games or shadow dance like the Ryan budget does," Graves said. "You are not going to get a budget done on one side of the aisle."
Bachmann has been a staunch supporter of Ryan and his budget plans, which routinely pass down party lines in the house, then get tossed away without a look in the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim majority.