"I just screwed up," Hatch told the Star Tribune on Wednesday. "It (the e-mail) wasn't intended to blame anybody. The only person I want to blame is myself. I let people down."
In his post-election e-mail, Hatch didn't blame Dutcher by name but wrote that he "got killed" in ethanol-producing counties in the last week of the campaign. That was when Dutcher fumbled a TV reporter's question on E85, appearing to be unfamiliar with the ethanol-gasoline blend that has become vital to the state's corn farmers.
However, a Star Tribune analysis of votes shows that ethanol may not have been that much of a factor the DFLer's 1-percentage-point loss to Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
In the state's 17 ethanol-producing counties, Hatch beat Pawlenty outright in four of them and fought him to a draw in two others. The analysis shows that Hatch actually did better in ethanol counties as a whole, when compared with other DFLers running statewide, than he did across the state.
For instance, he ran about even with Mark Ritchie, the victorious DFL secretary of state candidate, in the ethanol counties, but ran 3.4 percentage points behind Ritchie in the state as a whole. Similarly, Lori Swanson, a Hatch protege elected to succeed him as attorney general, ran 6.7 percentage points ahead of him in the ethanol counties, but 7.5 percentage points ahead of him statewide.
The Independence Party's Peter Hutchinson pulled between 4 and 7 percent of the vote, doing no better in the ethanol counties than he did elsewhere in the state.
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Hatch may have had slight basis for assuming he would do much better in the ethanol counties than he did. With a few notable exceptions, he came within a few points of the percentages racked up by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004, when turnout was much greater, generally an advantage for Democrats.
Hatch fell short in vote-rich Hennepin and Ramsey counties, where he beat Pawlenty but underperformed a DFL ticket that swept every constitutional spot save for his.
In the e-mail, Hatch gave two other reasons for his loss: Hutchinson's better-than-expected showing in liberal DFL precincts across Minneapolis and St. Paul and well-funded Republican attack ads that reached a peak by Election Day.
But on Wednesday, Hatch acknowledged that in the final days "there were hiccups galore. A lot of things went wrong. I put my gaffe right up at the top."
His gaffe was an outburst in which he called a reporter either a "Republican whore" or "hack," a temper flash that came after punishing attacks that followed Dutcher's blunder.
In defending Dutcher, Hatch said he made matters even worse at one point by telling his attackers to quit picking on a woman.
"I was thinking, don't pick on the lieutenant governor, pick on me," he said. "But at one point I said don't pick on a woman. That was a dumb, dumb, dumb comment to make."
Ultimately, he said, that may have cost him more votes among liberals in the Twin Cities metropolitan area than his original outburst.