After nine hours and seven ballots, Hatch was the delegates' choice. After winning the endorsement by unanimous voice vote, Hatch took the stage with his family and thanked the delegates. He joked about past campaigns, when he spurned party activists and ran against endorsed Democrats.
"There's a great Biblical passage, a great story in the Bible, about the great prodigal son and to that end I want to thank you for letting me come home," Hatch said.
Hatch told delegates that he was in the best position financially and politically to defeat Republican incumbent Tim Pawlenty in November. Hatch was the top DFL vote getter in the 2002 election and says he has $1 million in his campaign war chest.
Hatch took dead aim at Pawlenty, criticizing him for the increasing cost of higher education, property tax increases and higher health care costs.
"What this great state needs, more than anything else right now, is a new governor," he said. It is the governor for good or bad that determines the destiny of this state. It is the governor whose actions or lack of actions makes us strong or makes us weak. It is the governor who's leadership or lack of leadership defines our future."
Hatch won the endorsement after a bitter floor battle with Steve Kelley. Kelley tried to convince delegates that he was the choice of the progressive wing of the party. But his efforts ran out of steam by early evening. Kelley conceded defeat and called on the delegates to unite behind Hatch.
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"I want to congratulate Mike Hatch and his team for a hard-fought campaign and I ask that this convention come together and endorse a candidate, Mike Hatch, and unify so we can win this November," he said.
Kelley says he will abide by the party endorsement. But Sen. Becky Lourey says she'll run in the September primary. Lourey expressed concern that party delegates haven't always chosen the best candidates for the general election.
"We're going to leave this convention and let you finish your work but we are seriously going to see you in September," she announced.
Hatch says he will meet with Lourey over the next few weeks to talk with her about her plans. If Hatch wins the primary, it could set up a bitter general election campaign between Hatch and Pawlenty.
The two have sparred in the past and haven't hidden their dislike for one another. Minnesota Republican Party Chair Ron Carey says there's a clear choice between Hatch and Pawlenty.
"Here we got an angry abrasive attack-dog liberal who is just filled with pessimism and personal attacks. I contrast that with Gov. Pawlenty who's charming and gracious. He's just a common sense leader," according to Carey.
Hatch isn't finished with meeting with DFL Party leaders. He has not selected a lieutenant governor running mate candidate. He says he'll announce his selection in a few weeks and will present the choice to the DFL Central Committee for their endorsement.
State DFLers had hoped to leave their convention over the weekend united as they headed toward the November election.
Before the gubernatorial battle got underway, DFL delegates heard a keynote speech from Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), who cautioned against assuming victories in November just because Republican poll numbers are low.
U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton echoed Feingold. Dayton decided not to run for re-election this year, but he urged DFL delegates to get out and vote for the party candidates
"Whatever our differences this weekend," he said, "we must unite to elect our DFL ticket in November. This is our year to win elections. And I'll do all I can to help that cause."
Hatch isn't the only endorsed DFLer to face a primary battle. Klobuchar, who won a first-ballot Senate endorsement Friday, will go against Ford Bell in the primary.
DFL Party Chairman Brian Melendez says he'd rather not have a primary, but it's a extra hoop the party will go through.
"I think the fact of the matter is Mike Hatch is running against Tim Pawlenty. Whatever goes on in the primary, Mike Hatch is going to come through it and run against Tim Pawlenty. Amy Klobuchar is running against Mark Kennedy and whatever goes on in the primary Amy Klobuchar will run against Mark Kennedy. We're not seeing primary candidates of the caliber that we've seen in past years. We've got outstanding endorsed candidates and their going to come through the primary with flying colors," he said.
Primaries are nothing new in Minnesota gubernatorial races. DFL political Analyst Bob Meek says endorsed candidates came through many of those contests in good shape.
"In 1982 Rudy Perpich had a heck of a primary with Warren Spannus, and Rudy Perpich went right on to win the general convincingly against Wheelock Whitney that year. Another governor who had primary contests, Arne Carlson; in fact he had a primary that he lost, and then he went on to win the general. So no, Minnesota voters are sophisticated. They make judgments," he said.
Still, some rank-and-file Democrats would rather not have to worry about the primary this year. Tim Henning, a Hatch delegate from Adrian, says he doesn't like to see resources going to a primary election.
"I think it's unfortunate, because I feel we should use our resources to elect Democrats not to fight amongst ourselves to a primary and save our money and our time and talent to to make sure we win in November," Henning said.
The next major party endorsing convention is later this month. Independence Party delegates will pick their candidates June 24th at Midway Stadium in St Paul.