Why Hatch was not elected

There are two reasons for Hatch’s loss: Hatch’s campaign and Democratic Huntchinson voters.

Jason Stahl

Last week’s elections were particularly hard for me. I’m not talking about the results, which I (almost) universally loved. No, the elections were hard because I was out of the country and felt disconnected from the process for the first time in my life. I couldn’t door-knock on Election Day, and I couldn’t sit and enjoy the election returns with a group of friends. However, by far the most frustrating experience was trying to get the results of Minnesota elections from a hotel room in Costa Rica. Let’s just say it wasn’t the easiest endeavor.

Even worse, when I did finally find out the next day what happened with the Minnesota races, the results brought one of the only pieces of bad news from the previous night: Minnesota’s race for governor where Democrat Mike Hatch lost by only 1 percent of the vote to Republican incumbent Tim Pawlenty.

So now, despite all the Democratic successes on election night, I continue to fixate on the lost governor’s race. Why do I do this to myself? Why do I focus on one of the few pieces of bad news from election night instead of focusing on all the Democratic gains? In the end, I practice such masochistic behavior for two reasons: because of what the loss means for the most vulnerable in our state and because, as a political junkie, I am interested in why Hatch lost.

As to the latter, I think that there are two fundamental, interrelated reasons for Hatch’s loss. While much has been made over late missteps in Hatch’s campaign, I think the evidence shows that the reasons for Hatch’s loss go deeper and lie with the very nature of the campaign Hatch tried to run. Namely, Hatch lost because he violated one of the cardinal rules of politics: He didn’t shore up his base. In other words, Hatch made the conscious decision to ignore his political base in the Twin Cities in favor of wooing more conservative outstate voters. Throughout the fall, so-called political experts who touted his “nearly perfect campaign” lauded him for such a move. But it was this move that ultimately did him in. As an analysis by the Pioneer Press has shown, Hatch – in Hennepin and Ramsey counties – received, respectively, 61,801 and 25,851 fewer votes than the average for other DFLers running for statewide office. Given that Hatch lost by only 21,000 votes, his underperformance in the Twin Cities was crucial.

However, I am reluctant to lay all the blame at Hatch’s feet. While running a campaign which ignores your base is bone-headed, those Democrats in the Twin Cities who chose to abandon Hatch also need to bear some responsibility for the fact that we’re now stuck with Pawlenty for another four years.

The same analysis by the Pioneer Press showed many urban liberals who voted Democratic across the board abandoned Hatch for Independence Party nominee Peter Hutchinson. In some Twin Cities precincts, Hutchinson received as much as 21 percent of the vote. Thus, at the state level, Hutchinson played much the same role as Ralph Nader did in the 2000 presidential election – draining away liberal support from the Democratic candidate, leading to the election of the Republican.

Those of you who live in the cities and fit this voting pattern -voting straight Democrat except for Hutchinson – must e-mail me to explain why you did so, because I just don’t get it. The vanity third-party movement represented by Hutchinson is dead and has been dead ever since Jesse Ventura left office. Moreover, it is the product of a bygone era of politics in which many people assumed that there was little difference between the two parties. If the last six years have taught us anything it is that the “R” or the “D” after the person’s name really does mean quite a lot.

In this case, it means that we won’t have a Democratic governor to go along with huge Democratic majorities in both state houses – a pairing which could have gone a long way to reversing the disastrous results of Pawlenty’s first four years in office. Moreover, given that Pawlenty was one of the few Republican incumbents to win, Minnesota Democrats will now be forced to stomach endless presidential and vice-presidential speculation surrounding him over the next two years. To those Democrats who voted for Hutchinson, remember that these are the results of your not doing your part to close out Pawlenty’s political career Nov. 7.

Jason Stahl welcomes comments at [email protected]