(MintPress) – All eyes were on Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann Tuesday afternoon as she took the stage in her hometown of St. Cloud, Minn. for the first of three debates against Democratic challenger Jim Graves — and most of those eyes weren’t filled with adoration or admiration.
While polls show Bachmann leading by six points or more, Minnesota’s 6th District residents who gathered Tuesday clearly favored Graves over the incumbent, a notion made evident through the raucous round of applause awarded to Graves during his introduction.
And the crowd didn’t quiet down from that point on. They got louder.
Graves supporters made their stance known through vocal shout-outs – some positive on behalf of their candidate, but most negative taunts and challenges against Bachmann, who handled the heckles by staring off to the side of the auditorium.
And while the allegiance of audience members was generated through their opposition to Bachmann and her policies, the debate itself didn’t exactly delve into all of the issues that such complaints stem from.
The one hour time slot was filled generally with local issues, with some discussion on tax policy, job creation, the Affordable Care Act and entitlement funding. No mention was given to her theories of a potential Muslim Brotherhood takeover of America, and no attention was focused on cuts to social programs.
After the debate, protesters against Bachmann gathered outside with signs insinuating that Bachmann hasn’t been there for them. Protesters told MintPress they’re frustrated with the lack of access they’ve had to the congresswomen, specifically referring to requests by the Latino population to meet with Bachmann and discuss strategies to improve relations within the community.
Their protests were met with counter protests from Bachmann supporters, who claimed Graves supporters were out-of-touch.
In the first stand-off of the election season, both candidates took the opportunity to portray themselves as the exact opposite of the campaign ads against them.
Bachmann campaign ads referring to Graves as “Big Spending Jim” weren’t off the table. Graves referenced this when addressing the question of whether or not the campaign ads accurately depicted the candidates, reminding Bachmann that he hasn’t been in Congress — he hasn’t even had the opportunity to generate such a name.
Just days after Graves publicly claimed Bachmann part of the “war on women,” citing her opposition to equal pay for women legislation and reproductive rights, the congresswoman fired back in a passive aggressive, yet obvious way.
Bachmann attempted to portray herself as a woman who has gone from rags to riches, or at least success. Two separate times she reminded the crowd – and Graves – that women can run businesses, too. And twice she referred to the fact that she drove a school bus in college.
While her political moves to portray her as a down-to-earth feminist were quite obvious, she wasn’t the only one to play the character card.
Graves pointed out that he worked to pay for his private high school education and public college courses, which he took to earn his teaching degree. From there, he started a hotel chain, one property at a time. He painted himself as the hometown boy who knew the value of hard work.
And while there was plenty of talk regarding the character of the candidates, what was lacking was discussion outside the realm of local issues and tax policies.
A limited view of the issues
The majority of the debate focused on job creation, the tax code and entitlement programs.
While the conversation between the two remained tense throughout the hour, it heated up most when the issue of paying for entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare, were brought into the conversation.
Graves proposed a program to pay for Social Security that lifted the $110,000 cap on those paying into the program. This, he said, was his plan. When Bachmann was presented with the same question of how she would deal with the lack of funding for the program, she replied with a barrage of details about the devastating nature of the future.
Graves took this opportunity to directly question his opponent, repeatedly asking her to answer the question. Specifics of her plan to fix the entitlement program debacle were left aside — a point the crowd noted through shout-outs and boos.
In terms of his political stance, Graves describes himself as a conservative. He did so Tuesday, as well, yet he stands by labor unions and the notion that a Democrat can break party lines to get the job done.
The discussion briefly touched on the Affordable Care Act, with candidates spending a great deal of the time discussing the merit of the bill. Bachmann has famously been opposed to the ACA, which she refers to as “Obamacare.” While not mentioning “death panels,” she did reference how it would take away the choice of care for senior citizens.
Graves was careful to say that he did not support all aspects of ACA, but applauded its provisions that disallow insurance companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions and the aspect of the bill that allows young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance until their mid-20s.
Two more debates to go, one final vote
Like all debates, Tuesday’s meeting of the minds was intended to show voters of the 6th District who their candidates are and what they believe. Yet it’s difficult to assume that most who gathered that day in St. Cloud fell into the “undecided” category.
And the candidates seemed to recognize that.
Bachmann twice referred to MSNBC as the “liberal media,” a comment that was met with laughter by the crowd. Just five minutes into the debate, she made a knock on Democrat Nancy Pelosi.
“I was even able to get Nancy Pelosi to sign that bill,” Bachmann said, regarding her bill that’s led to a new bridge project between Minnesota and Wisconsin.
When discussing the hefty $700 million price tag of the bridge, she blamed “radical environmentalists,” twice, for their lawsuits against the project, which she said drove up the costs.
Graves, too, knew the only people he was reaching out to were those fed up with Bachmann and her celebrity image.
“We need someone who can create jobs, not headlines,” Graves said – a comment that was greeted by a few sneers and chuckles.
He was anything but pleasant to the incumbent, presenting himself as a hardline business guy who would do what’s best for the working people and wouldn’t get caught up in the political drama.
“I’ll work for you,” he said to the crowd at one point.
The candidates will meet for two more debates before the Nov. 6 elections.