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Hatch concedes; Pawlenty barely wins re-election

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Finally, victory
Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau celebrate around 3 Wednesday morning when election results showed they won another term.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

 Democratic Attorney General Mike Hatch conceded to Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Wednesday, after unofficial election results showed a widening margin in the race for governor.

      With nearly 2.2 million votes counted, Pawlenty's lead over Hatch grew to more than 25,000 votes by Wednesday morning, according to numbers on the Secretary of State's Web site.

Concession
DFL gubernatorial candidate Mike Hatch, right, and his running mate Judi Dutcher, formally conceded the race Wednesday morning.
MPR Photo/Lorna Benson

      Hatch addressed reporters Wednesday, saying the Republican governor and the newly-elected Democratic majority in the House and Senate would have to work together.

      Democrats now boast an 85-49 edge in the House and a 44-23 lead in the Senate.

It was a tough election for Republicans, but Tim Pawlenty managed to survive a Democratic wave that tossed out every other Republican constitutional officer. 

Early returns showed DFLer Mike Hatch leading by as much as 6 percentage points, but the margin quickly narrowed, and then Pawlenty took the lead. 

Around 3 a.m., Pawlenty finally spoke to Republican supporters gathered in Bloomington, as they chanted "T-Paw" and "four more years." Pawlenty took a conciliatory tone in his victory speech, reaching out to Minnesotans who didn't vote for him.

Whooping it up for Pawlenty
Supporters for Gov. Pawlenty celebrate early Wednesday morning as it became clear the incumbent survived a DFL challenge. Pawlenty was one of the few Republicans in Minnesota to escape unscathed.
MPR Photo/Laura McCallum

"The country's divided. And we need to come together. And we need to do our part by having that start here and start now, tonight," he said.

Pawlenty says he will try to find common ground with a DFL-controlled Legislature on issues such as education, health care, jobs, and transportation. After his victory speech, Pawlenty told reporters that he'll leave it up to the pundits to figure out why he won.

"All I know is, we worked our tails off. We tried to do it with as much dignity as we could, and positive message as we could, and the people of Minnesota responded. And now we owe them our best in the next four years, and boy, I'm going to give it to them," Pawlenty said.

Pawlenty's DFL opponent, Mike Hatch, was considered the Democrats' best chance to take back the governor's office, which hasn't been won by a DFLer in 20 years. 

Peter Hutchinson
Independence Party candidate Peter Hutchinson concedes his race for governor.
MPR Photo/Molly Bloom

Hatch's campaign message was that under Pawlenty's leadership, rising property taxes, college tuition and health care costs were squeezing the middle class. 

The two-term attorney general had a narrow lead over Pawlenty in recent polls. But in the last week, Hatch's running mate, Judi Dutcher, botched a question about a key agricultural issue, and Hatch lashed out at a couple of reporters. An outside group ran negative ads questioning Hatch's character. 

 Hatch shrugged off Republicans' charge that he had shown himself unfit for the office.

      "It's not temper, it's passion," Hatch said. "I have passion and I care about issues."   Independence Party candidate Peter Hutchinson came in a distant third, but drew more than the margin of difference between Pawlenty and Hatch. He told supporters that his campaign ran the best ads, had the best ideas and told the truth. 

Hutchinson says Minnesotans feel ignored by their government, and state leaders must try to change that by being upfront about the state's challenges.

"In my travels I've learned that Minnesotans will support straight talk from someone they disagree with, more than weasel words from someone they support," Hutchinson said. "They can handle the truth. They want leaders who can handle the truth as well."

Pawlenty began his first term with a $4.5 billion deficit. He will likely begin his next term with a surplus, but he'll have fewer allies in the Legislature to support his agenda.