What happened to Mike Hatch?

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

On the day after his victory, Gov. Pawlenty stayed out of public view. But he did issue a statement saying he is grateful and humbled that Minnesota voters have given him another four years in office.

Several hours earlier, at his victory party in Bloomington, he was asked what he thought accounted for his win. Pawlenty said it's was too early to say for sure.

"I hope people appreciate the work we've done. We've dug Minnesota out of a big hole. It was a $4.5 billion deficit. We've made a lot of good progress in areas like education and others. So I hope they said two things, one is he's done a pretty good job so far and he's deserving of a second term and hopefully they like some of the ideas we've been talking about for a second term as well," Pawlenty said.

During his concession statement at the state Capitol on Wednesday, Attorney General Mike Hatch was equally cautious about speculating on what happened. When asked whether running mate Judi Dutcher's botched response to an ethanol question last week and his resulting angry exchange with reporters hurt him on election day, Hatch also said it was too soon to know.

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"You know I haven't had a chance to evaluate it," he said. "I'm sure there's always something you'd do differently. One, if I did it differently I'd win. That's one thing I'd like to do differently. But having said that, how you get there? Who knows?"

Dan Hofrenning suspects there was a bit of unease about Hatch because of his behavior in the last week of the campaign. Although Hofrenning, a political scientist from St. Olaf College in Northfield, does think it's noteworthy that Hatch turned in the best election performance by a DFL gubernatorial candidate in decades.

He says in the three previous gubernatorial elections, the DFL candidate never broke 40-percent in the polls.

"That being said, the other statewide offices all went to Democrats. So perhaps you could fault Hatch for that and that would be one indicator that Mike Hatch as a candidate under-performed, that is he ran at the back of the Democratic pack for statewide office," according to Hofrenning. But Hofrenning says it's also clear that Tim Pawlenty was a very strong Republican candidate who is a likeable person and a good campaigner. And he says Pawlenty did seem to find a way to reach out to mainstream voters.

"He supported stem cell research, he compromised a bit on revenue supporting this tobacco fee; some people criticized him for that but I think it was a bit of a move toward the center, and displayed a pragmatic streak that I think went over with the plurality of Minnesotans," said Hofrenning.

Minnesota State University, Mankato political science professor Joseph Kunkel agrees that Pawlenty was a tough candidate to beat. But he's not so sure that Pawlenty had the edge on the issues.

"Hatch was winning on a lot of the issues. But I think the person, the personality of the candidates was a big part of it," Kunkel said Wednesday.

Kunkel says unlike many other races in the state that rise or fall along with the national voting sentiment, gubernatorial races are more personality driven. He says most voters probably felt like they knew a lot about each of the candidates.

"Everyone has an opinion on Pawlenty and Hatch. They're very well known. People have opinions about their personalities, about their record and so people are making a choice on that," he said.

That may have also been a factor for Independence Party candidate Peter Hutchinson, the least well known of the major gubernatorial candidates. Despite a rigorous campaign he finished a distant third with just 6 percent of the vote.

Kunkel says he thinks Hutchinson probably took more votes from Hatch than Pawlenty. Hofrenning agrees but says he believes Hutchinson wasn't much of a factor.