Thursday, October 20, 2005

Hatch's contenders

Dane Smith has a weak article in the Star Tribune today on the field of DFL candidate for governor.

Smith's premise is that Gov. Pawlenty is vulnerable, thus all the DFL candidates. Interesting, but wrong. The real reason for all the DFL candidates is because DFLers hate Mike Hatch. This is a man who has consistently broken promises to DFL activists in a quixotic pursuit of the governorship.

Scramble unfolds in race for governor

Until recently the conventional wisdom surrounding the 2006 gubernatorial election was simple and uncomplicated.

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, popular, smart and personable, even mentioned occasionally as a 2008 presidential candidate, would be hard to beat. Attorney General Mike Hatch, tenacious consumer champion and one of the biggest vote-getters in state history, would be the only DFLer with the horsepower to challenge Pawlenty, and the party's nomination would be his for the asking.

But now - as Hatch prepares to reveal on Monday the worst-kept secret in Minnesota politics, that he is indeed taking Pawlenty on - the picture has changed considerably. Things don't look so rosy for either Pawlenty or Hatch.

Incumbent Republicans everywhere look more vulnerable as President Bush's approval ratings have plummeted precipitously and economic warning lights flicker.

Lesser-known DFLers see this, and instead of getting a coronation ride, Hatch now may face at least four viable contenders for the party endorsement or the primary election.They include: state Sens. Steve Kelley and Becky Lourey; real estate developer Kelly Doran, and former state Rep. Bud Philbrook. Also running is frequent candidate Ole Savior.

"I think Bush's troubles translate directly into trouble for Republicans, especially in the bluer [more Democratic] states," said Bill Morris, a Minnesota pollster and consultant, and a former Republican Party chairman.

Pawlenty's unfavorable rating percentage has climbed to almost even with his favorable percentage in Morris' recent polling, he said, adding that "History suggests that people do base their state election voting on what's going on in the country as well as the state."

Pawlenty waved off any concerns about Bush, Hatch or other DFLers on Wednesday. "I'd stand with President Bush if his approval rating was 2 percent," Pawlenty said. "I won't abandon my leader just because times are tough."

Hatch, who was ahead of Pawlenty by a few statistically insignificant percentage points in a recent Wall Street Journal/Zogby poll, is declining all interview requests on campaign matters before his announcement Monday.

"[Hatch] wishes everybody well and looks forward to debating the issues that are important to move the state forward," said spokeswoman Leslie Sandberg. Despite the larger field on the DFL side and disenchantment with Hatch among some liberal
activists, Morris thinks Hatch enters the race as a strong favorite to get the party endorsement, and a favorite in the primary election if he fails to get the endorsement.Campaign pace quickens.

The pace in general has begun to quicken. The Republican Party last week launched a website, mikeunhatched.com, with direct attacks on Hatch, focusing on the "flip-flops" in his 25-year career. The site also is reviewing critical things other DFLers have said about Hatch over the years, especially when he twice challenged the party's endorsed candidates for governor in primary elections.

Hatch, who sent out a fundraising letter this week that finally confirmed in writing that he was getting in, clearly is going to face a tougher fight than was previously assumed within his own ranks.

The entrance of neophyte Doran, a first-time candidate whose financial disclosure forms show that he has assets between $58 million and $210 million, has set off quite a buzz in DFL ranks.

Doran, who recently switched from the U.S. Senate race to the governor's contest, already has mounted an expensive billboard campaign. Unlike other candidates who hold office, he's campaigning full time, courting party activists and interest groups, especially labor union leaders. Campaign officials refused to confirm rumors that he's poised to release a barrage of TV or radio ads in the next couple of weeks.

Doran's casting himself as a moderate outsider who won't be part of bitter partisan gridlock. He says voters want a candidate who doesn't have a long career of "personal political ambition. ... There's a huge growing unrest with career politicians. I'm offering fresh ideas and innovative ideas to stop the gridlock and bickering and finger-pointing," he said.

Kelley, a respected senior legislator who was first out of the gate and whose campaign has been underway since last summer, has raised about $130,000 and has a staff of about 10. He enjoys considerable support among the state's powerful teachers' union and other advocates for public schools and he's arguing that he will be the best candidate to appeal to suburban moderates.

He's promised to abide by the party endorsement, meaning that if he fails to get it he won't challenge the winner in the primary election. His low-key manner might be a handicap, but Kelley said he is "trying to help people understand that I'm passionate about issues."

Lourey, who has the experience of a gubernatorial endorsement bid in 2002, is still exploring and has not officially announced. She is a liberal champion for peace and social justice, and her views may be closest to the ideological tradition of the party, although her more moderate opponents are likely to argue that she won't win. She's bound to have a sizable base of support among the activists who confer endorsement, and she's the only woman in the race.

Philbrook, who was a legislator in the 1970s, founded a nonprofit that organizes international volunteers.

Meanwhile, Peter Hutchinson, former Minneapolis school superintendent and a veteran public policy expert, confirmed that he's likely to run as the candidate of the Independence Party, which got about 16 percent of the vote in 2002 under former congressman Tim Penny.

Hutchinson says the winner in a three-way race has to have about 900,000 votes and he's counting on winning over at least a million voters who are either "disgruntled Democrats, Republicans in exile and true independents."

Hutchinson, a former finance commissioner under DFL Gov. Rudy Perpich, said his DFL friends have implored him not to run because the consensus is that he will take many more votes from the DFLer than from Pawlenty, as apparently happened in 1998.

"A huge share of people in Minnesota don't like either party," Hutchinson said. "People are tired of holding their noses" and voting for the lesser of two evils, he added.
(Source: Star Tribune, Oct. 20, 2005)

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