WASHINGTON -- When Jim Graves, the Democratic challenger against Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), learned his opponent was no longer seeking reelection, he was more surprised by the timing than the decision.
"The timing of the announcement really caught us off-guard," he told The Huffington Post in a phone interview Wednesday, adding that he thought Bachmann might have pulled out of the race down the road. "We thought she was going full-speed ahead."
The Minnesota Republican announced she was not running for reelection in a YouTube video posted very early Wednesday morning. Bachmann herself was in Russia as part of a congressional delegation to investigate the Boston Marathon bombings when the video was posted. Like Graves, many were taken aback by the news -- just over a week ago, Bachmann announced a new round of television advertising touting her bill to repeal Obamacare.
Despite her decision to step out of the race, the Minnesota representative insisted she would have won reelection. "Be assured: My decision was not in any way influenced by any concerns about my being reelected to Congress," she said in her video. "I have every confidence that if I ran, I would again defeat the individual who I defeated last year, who recently announced he is once again running."
But according to Graves, it wouldn't have been so easy. Bachmann found her failed 2012 presidential campaign under investigation by the Federal Election Commission, the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee.
"I think a lot of politicians ... usually are almost saying the opposite of what they're saying," Graves said. "I think she probably thought that it was maybe too big a hill to climb."
Bachmann eked out a one-point victory against Graves in 2012, and recent polling done for Graves indicated a close race for 2014. A Public Policy Polling survey released on May 20 found that Bachmann held only a 47-45 edge over him.
No Republican candidate has yet announced a run for the seat in the overwhelmingly Republican district. A National Republican Congressional Committee statement simply thanked Bachmann for her service.
Graves speculated that Bachmann's successor will be similar to her. "At the end of the day, it's probably going to be someone who carries many of the same messages that she did," he said.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee piled on: "This Republican Congress will continue to turn off Americans of all political stripes because they’re using the Bachmann playbook: Put politics before solutions. The American people will now watch Republicans in Congress compete over who can be the most extreme and most radical to take Bachmann’s place pushing forward their extreme agenda," said spokeswoman Emily Bittner in a statement.
Going forward, Graves said Bachmann's announcement will have "no effect" on his message. He conceded that Bachmann was a "lightning rod for national news and fundraising, but in the district, all politics is local."
Graves, who is running on his experience as a hotel executive, holds views that are mostly consistent with the Democratic Party. But while some of his fellow Democratic candidates are distancing themselves from chained CPI, a proposal that effectively cuts social security benefits and is supported by President Barack Obama, Graves embraces it.
"We know there's a much more empirical method by which we can actually determine what the cost-of-living increase is, and that's the chained CPI approach," he said.
The White House offered a muted response to Bachmann's decision on Wednesday. "We all wish her well in her future endeavors," Press Secretary Jay Carney said during his daily briefing. The news of Bachmann's departure did not come up during a meeting with the president in the Oval Office, he added.