(AP) Democratic candidate Mike Hatch, the frontrunner in the race for Minnesota governor, took heat Friday from two rivals over a temper he displayed in the campaign's stretch run.
Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Independence Party's Peter Hutchinson, a consultant and former state finance chief, questioned Hatch's ability to respond to pressure situations.
The issue of temperament jumped to the fore after Hatch dressed down a couple of reporters pressing him about his lieutenant governor nominee's knowledge of ethanol. Judi Dutcher drew a blank when this week asked to comment on E-85, an ethanol blend.
"The larger issue now is not Judi's comments or lack of awareness about E-85," Pawlenty said. "It's the attorney general's handling of the situation. Sadly, he has a long record of this type of behavior and these kind of comments. This isn't new and it's just now coming through in this campaign."
Hutchinson criticized Pawlenty for raising doubts about Dutcher's qualifications, but said Hatch botched the situation, too.
"For Mike Hatch to blow up and mislead people about what happened, that's equally wrong," Hutchinson said.
Hatch, who has led in most public polls lately, said he regrets how he handled the flap but doesn't think his temper would undermine his ability to lead.
"I've been under high-pressure situations as attorney general for eight years. I've been under high-pressure situations as commerce commissioner for eight years," he said. "So people of the state know me."
The ethanol issue - and plans for renewable fuels more broadly - got an added emphasis in the campaign's final televised debate because of the Dutcher gaffe.
Hatch said he wants a state mandate requiring the state energy supply to be comprised of 20 percent renewable fuels by 2020. Pawlenty said he favors incentives for increased wind energy. Hutchinson said some current subsidies need to be shifted from corn-derived ethanol to other ingredients.
Twice during the debate on Twin Cities Public Television, the candidates took a break to watch old footage of them in earlier roles and campaigns, showing off some humorous hairstyles, vintage eyewear and political antics.
The wide-ranging debate also clarified candidate stances on several other pressing matters:
-Enacting a statewide smoking ban for bars and restaurants: All three said they'd sign it.
-Lifting a ban on wine sales in grocery stores: Hutchinson favors the measure, while the other two oppose it.
-Expanding gambling: Hatch and Pawlenty said they wouldn't press for more casinos; Hutchinson upped the ante by saying he wouldn't mind moving the state out of the lottery business.
-Imposing a sales tax on clothing: Pawlenty and Hatch said no. Hutchinson said he would back it if the overall rate were lowered.
-Building a new Vikings stadium: Pawlenty and Hatch said they'd demand a public referendum for any local taxes. Hutchinson said government shouldn't kick in any money for a stadium.
The candidates will meet one more time - on Sunday - in a Minnesota Public Radio debate.
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