Updated at: 05/31/2013 3:36 PM
By BRIAN BAKST
(AP) ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Democrat gearing up for a rematch against U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann suspended his campaign Friday, proclaiming success in his goal to oust the polarizing conservative from Congress two days after she announced she wouldn’t seek re-election.
In an email message to supporters, Jim Graves, who narrowly lost to Bachmann last year, said he felt his primary goal of unseating Bachmann was complete even if she decided to step away voluntarily rather than face him in a rematch race.
"We set out to defeat Rep. Bachmann, and that has been accomplished. You should feel incredibly proud," he wrote to his backers. "After all, it was the grassroots movement that you built that kept the pressure on and forced Rep. Bachmann from her seat in Congress."
Bachmann made her own announcement in a Web video on Wednesday in which she tried to head off speculation that she was stepping down to avoid another tight race or because of various ethics investigations surrounding her. She hasn’t spoken publicly about her decision since then.
Graves, who founded a hotel chain, narrowly lost to Bachmann in 2012. He had previously announced he would challenge Bachmann again next year if the incumbent opted to try for a fifth term. Her district is the most heavily Republican in Minnesota.
Without a polarizing figure like Bachmann opposite him on the ticket, political experts predicted that Graves would find the task of raising money and converting GOP-leaning voters to his side more difficult.
Several Republicans are weighing a run. No other Democrats have emerged yet.
Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey said no matter whom his party chooses, the seat looks safe for the GOP.
"We have a really good chance for a Republican candidate to win that race in the general election in 2014, and apparently Jim Graves saw that as well. We agree with Jim Graves."
But Minnesota Democratic Party Chairman Ken Martin said his party won’t throw in the towel for an open seat.
"Although it’s a conservative district, with the right candidate this is a great opportunity for Democrats," Martin said, adding that residents concerned about Bachmann shouldn’t let down their guard.
"They understand that if Republicans put forward another far-right, Tea Party candidate, it will be politics as usual for them," he said.
Heading into the 2014 campaign, Minnesota Democrats enjoy a 5 to 3 advantage over Republicans in the House delegation.
Associated Press writer Patrick Condon contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)