As Mike Hatch made a campaign swing through a senior center in St. Cloud, the state's top lawyer was stopped by Craig Gondeck, a former Fingerhut worker.
"I'd like to thank you for what you did for us. If there's anyone that went to bat for us, you did," Gondeck told Hatch. "You saved our jobs."
Gondeck said four years ago, Hatch fought Federated Department Stores to save Fingerhut jobs.
"The way I understand it, he basically said, 'if you don't treat these people right, I'll sue you and your stock will be a quarter a share.' And that pretty much turned the momentum," Gondeck said. "And we got severance packages out of it and everything. If it wasn't for Mike Hatch, we wouldn't have got nothing."
That comment indicates why Hatch has the support of many workers like Gondeck, and why Hatch makes many employers nervous. As attorney general, Hatch has taken on some of Minnesota's largest banks, insurance companies, HMOs and utilities.
David Olson, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said the attorney general seems to relish suing Minnesota businesses.
"He takes on those companies with a vengeance. And those are some of our corporate pillars of the community, and he loves, in his words, going after them," Olson said. "And we are fearful that that would obviously continue as governor, and we're very worried about that."
Hatch isn't running from his image as a tenacious crusader. As he traveled the state on his "Middle Class Victory Tour," Hatch said voters want a governor who gets things done.
"If it takes somebody to be aggressive to address higher education or K-12 or property taxes or jobs in a global economy, it has to be somebody who's going to be tough and make decisions and be aggressive, so be it," said Hatch. "They're not afraid of an aggressive governor, frankly, I think they want one."
Republicans have tried to paint Hatch as an angry bully who has a "fatal attraction" to the governor's office. This is Hatch's third bid for governor, after two unsuccessful runs in the 1990s. Hatch said his first two attempts were less serious than this one. He said his 1990 run challenging DFL governor Rudy Perpich was "doomed from the start," and his 1994 campaign was "more of a lark."
This time Hatch says he's running because he heard from many Minnesotans frustrated with the way Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has led the state.
"In this one, I ran primarily because people asked me to run," Hatch said. "If I really wanted to run, I should have just run in 2002 when there was an opening. But I didn't, I chose not to. I like being attorney general, I've made no bones about it. I think it's the best job in government and I love it."
Hatch acknowledges he had doubts about running for governor again, even as late as a month before the DFL State Convention in June. He said he even thought about running for a third term as attorney general after he'd already launched his campaign for governor. But by all accounts, Hatch is running a campaign that's much more strategic and effective than either of his earlier bids. He's responded quickly to attack ads, and he's raised about $2.4 million, more than any other DFL candidate for Minnesota governor.
As he bounded into a crowded Willmar coffee shop on his final campaign swing, Hatch was upbeat about the race. He joked about the fact that his campaign RV had broken down earlier in the day.
"Thank you very much for coming, I apologize for being late," Hatch told supporters. "Our campaign is so red hot that our van -- the RV we were in -- went on fire."
Among the Hatch supporters in the coffee shop was Laura Welle, a breast cancer survivor who was featured in a Hatch ad during his first run for attorney general. Welle, a high school art teacher, said Hatch successfully sued her insurance company so that she could get the bone marrow treatment she needed.
"I felt like I was the David against the Goliath, but I didn't have a slingshot or a rock, and that's what Mike is," Welle said. "He's got the power."
And if Hatch wins the governor's office this year, he'll have even more power; something his critics are clearly afraid of.