There's no independent count of the DFL delegates, but the three campaigns agree that Attorney General Mike Hatch is in the lead, although not by enough to walk away with the endorsement on the first ballot.
Hatch plans to run in the primary regardless of whether he gets the DFL nod, and he challenged endorsed candidates for governor twice in the 1990s, including incumbent Rudy Perpich, who had hired Hatch as commerce commissioner. Still, Hatch said he hopes to get his party's backing this time.
"I expected getting into this that I would be bearing the cross of having run against the endorsement process, and certainly that's been the main criticism," Hatch said. "But on the other hand, these delegates have been very good, very deliberate on asking questions about the future of Minnesota, asking questions about electability."
Hatch has twice been elected attorney general, and he was the top vote-getter for all statewide offices four years ago. He's raised more than $1 million, and most Minnesotans know who he is.
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State Sen. Becky Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, said the last two DFL gubernatorial candidates -- Roger Moe and Skip Humphrey -- had great name recognition, but neither candidate won. Lourey said it's more important that delegates endorse a candidate they're excited about.
"They like my vision, they like my energy, and they believe that I will bring people together," Lourey said. "What they like is that I have a real story, true life experiences that connect with other people's lives."
Lourey's campaign sent delegates a DVD describing Lourey's background as a mother of 12 children, including a son who was killed in Iraq, a farmer, and a small business owner in rural Minnesota. The DVD also features a folksy Lourey campaign song composed by cowboy singer Pop Wagner.
Neither of the other two candidates can claim an original campaign song, but state Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, is the only one of the three who says he'll drop out of the race if he doesn't get the DFL endorsement. Kelley said as a suburban legislator who's been a leader on education, he's in a good position to broaden the party's reach beyond self-described Democrats.
"Democrats have to be united and we can defeat Pawlenty, but we also have to appeal to the Independence Party folks, to independent individuals and moderate Republicans," Kelley said.
Kelley sponsored a Twins stadium bill this year, which he acknowledges may have cost him the votes of some delegates. But he said not all Democrats are stadium opponents, and said his voting record on issues like education and energy helps him with delegates. Kelley is also trying to overcome the perception that he's less passionate than Hatch and Lourey, and has been racheting up his speeches at DFL events around the state.
"We know that Minnesotans are tired of Tim Pawlenty's property tax increases, his cuts to health care, his cuts to education, and his total lack of leadership, and with your help, in 2006, we're going to change it and get Minnesota back on track!" Kelley told cheering delegates at the 6th District DFL convention in Monticello in May.
All three Democrats are focusing their attacks on Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, although they've made subtle jabs at each other. Hatch said his track record of hounding HMOs, insurance companies and utilities makes him the best candidate to take on Pawlenty in November.
"I may not be the person people want to have a beer with, but they do want to move forward, and they want leadership and they want executive leadership. And with all due respect, I think I've got that," Hatch said. "I think I've demonstrated that at the commerce department, I owned my own law firm, represented businesses in that law firm, did it as attorney general, and I think I can do it as governor."
Pawlenty didn't single out any of the DFL candidates at the GOP convention last weekend, but said Minnesotans' worst nightmare would be a liberal DFL governor who supports tax increases, abortion rights, gay marriage and illegal immigration.