(AP) Mike Hatch announced former state auditor and one-time Republican Judi Dutcher as his running mate Sunday, as Democratic supporters touted the electoral math they hope will propel the two to the governor's office this fall.
"It's likely that just about every voter in Minnesota voted for one of these two candidates at some point," said state Rep. Debra Hilstrom, who introduced the Hatch-Dutcher ticket at Hatch's suburban Burnsville home.
To that point, Hatch - currently the Democratic attorney general - reminded the crowd of about 250 supporters that he was the state's top vote-getter in his 2002 re-election bid, while Dutcher won more votes than any candidate in state history as the GOP state auditor candidate in 1998.
"This state deserves a change, and it wasn't going to happen without someone of her caliber on the ticket with me," Hatch said. "By everybody's estimate, she was the top draft pick for the ticket."
Despite their records of success, Hatch and Dutcher face a tough fight to unseat popular Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and his running mate, Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau. But Hatch and Dutcher enter the race with two statewide election victories apiece under their belts, with the kind of statewide name recognition reserved for all but a few of the state's political leaders.
While Hatch had unsuccessfully sought children's safety advocate Patty Wetterling as a running mate, he said Sunday that Dutcher was on his wish list as early as two years ago. He said he'd spent weeks recruiting her, and that she had agreed to do so only if he captured the DFL endorsement at the party's state convention two weeks ago in Rochester.
Hatch and Dutcher face a Democratic primary challenge from state Sen. Becky Lourey and her running mate, former Minnesota Viking Tim Baylor.
Since leaving office at the beginning of 2003, Dutcher has served as president of the Minnesota Community Foundation, from which she stepped down last week.
Dutcher said her concern that the Pawlenty administration is forsaking the state's vaunted quality of life was enough to pull her out of political retirement.
"It really is about a desire to improve this state for my kids and everyone's children," Dutcher said. "There has to be some accountability for this administration."
Dutcher, 43, is the daughter of Gophers basketball coach Jim Dutcher. She lives in Minnetonka with her husband and two sons.
A former prosecutor, Dutcher was elected state auditor in 1994 and 1998 as a Republican. She defected to the DFL in 2000, saying her moderate views on abortion rights and other issues were increasingly out of step with the GOP.
Dutcher sought to draw a contrast between herself and Pawlenty, with whom she's often been compared - the two are close to the same age, hail from the Twin Cities suburbs and have two school-age children. But she said Pawlenty's governorship has been hobbled by his need to please the GOP's right wing, including his decision in 2002 to sign a "no new taxes" pledge.
"He hamstrung himself and he sacrificed our state's future in order to please his party's special interests," Dutcher said.
Dutcher unsuccessfully sought the DFL gubernatorial endorsement in 2002, losing out to then-state Sen. Roger Moe, who went on to lose to Pawlenty.
Republicans, who have criticized Hatch as a political opportunist for his history of challenging his own party's endorsed candidates, said Dutcher's party switch makes her an appropriate fit. "There is no way that Minnesotans can trust them," GOP Chairman Ron Carey said in a prepared statement.
Hatch and Dutcher said they've not yet spoken in depth about what role Dutcher would play in a Hatch administration. Molnau has taken on an unusually active portfolio as Pawlenty's second in command, serving simultaneously as the state's transportation commissioner.
Kelly Kemp, a Hatch supporter from St. Anthony, predicted that voters would realize they'd be getting two strong leaders for the price of one.
"She's got a great background of pushing for fiscal responsibility in government," Kemp said of Dutcher. "I would guess she'd do something important as lieutenant governor - she won't be hiding in the wings somewhere."