Hutchinson spends faster than his opponents

Peter Hutchinson
Peter Hutchinson paid more than $20,000 to rent a hotel ballroom to announce his candidacy earlier this year.
MPR Photo/Laura McCallum

So far this year, Hutchinson has raised about twice as much money as former Independence Party Gov. Jesse Ventura raised his entire campaign.

But Hutchinson has also spent a lot, including $21,000 to rent a hotel ballroom to announce the launch of his campaign. Without a $35,000 personal loan, his account would be in the red.

Hutchinson spent about $250,000 on staff, paying a total of 41 people. He said that army of people has traveled the state to organize campaign events.

"We're going to run a ground campaign," he said. "We're putting shoe leather on the pavement. We're not going to win this campaign by trying to buy the election on television. We're going to go to where the people live, we're going to talk to people in their homes, so we had to put together an organization to do that. It's harder."

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I think a third party candidate in Minnesota has a huge publicity problem.

Hutchinson says he's personally shaken the hands of probably 200,000 Minnesotans in parades and other events. He says his approach is similar to the first campaign of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.

"There were literally hundreds of thousands of people in Minnesota who could say, 'I met that guy,'" Hutchinson said. "I don't think there are hundreds of thousands of people in Minnesota that can actually say that they met Tim Pawlenty or Mike Hatch."

But on the eve of the fall campaign season, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and DFL-endorsed candidate Mike Hatch have much healthier campaign bank accounts.

Hatch has about $1 million, while Pawlenty has twice that in the bank. Hutchinson hasn't raised nearly as much as the governor, but has slightly outspent him this year. And Hutchinson has spent double what the governor has to pay campaign workers. Compared to Hutchinson's team of more than 40, the governor is paying a staff of just five and four interns.

For his part, Hatch spent about $300,000 this year, including less than $35,000 on the salaries of only two staffers.

Hatch's campaign manager Jon Youngdahl said the strategy is to rely heavily on volunteers and save money for television ads this fall.

"We are saving as much money as we can for our media outreach efforts and our door-to-door efforts in the fall," he said, "so that we can reach voters directly in their homes."

Hatch and Pawlenty also have the benefit of high name recognition as statewide office holders who are often in the news. Hutchinson, a former Minneapolis schools superintendent and former state finance commissioner, has never run for office before.

Carleton College political scientist Steven Schier said it will be tough for Hutchinson to shake enough hands to become well known.

"I think a third party candidate in Minnesota has a huge publicity problem," he said. "That is, getting known to large numbers of voters, and really, the most efficient way to solve that problem was illustrated by Jesse Ventura when he ran for governor in 1998, and that is to advertise very effectively on a limited budget."

Hutchinson said like Ventura, he'll run clever ads closer to the election.

He's counting on money from the state's public financing system that provides subsidies to candidates who accept spending limits. Hutchinson will get $283,000 from the state. He could get even more if Gov. Pawlenty decides to forego the subsidy and exceed the spending limit of $2.4 million. Hatch said he'll abide by the limit.

All three endorsed candidates face primary challengers who have little, if any, cash on hand. Hutchinson faces Pam Ellison, who has about $600 in the bank. Pawlenty is being challenged by Sue Jeffers, who has yet to file her campaign finance report. And Hatch is running against Becky Lourey, who also hasn't filed her report, but says it will show a deficit.

"It's true, we did come out of the endorsement process with a deficit," Lourey said. "And following that we hired a wonderful new fundraiser. And we are doing a very good job of raising money now since the fundraiser came on."

Lourey and Jeffers have until Friday to file their reports with the state campaign finance board, or face a $50 a day penalty.