Monday, August 28, 2006

Minnesota Governor Race

Race of the Day

August 28, 2006
71 Days Until Election Day

Minnesota Governor

Status: Republican Incumbent
2004 Presidential Result: Blue State (Midwest)

Outlook: Leans Republican

The battleground nature of Minnesota at all levels of politics guarantees that the race for Governor should be competitive this year. Despite being able to carry the state in every Presidential election since 1972, the Minnesota DFL has been frustrated with their inability to elect a Governor in the past 20 years. Such a circumstance would seem to favor the “time for a change” feeling within the state, but four of the years that the Democrats have been out of power in St. Paul were under the tumultuous tenure of former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura, who in 1998 was elected Governor as the candidate of the Reform Party. Thus, with the job approval numbers of Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty being as high as 56 % in one recent survey, the GOP incumbent has to be considered a solid, but not overwhelming favorite for another four years.

While Pawlenty still faces minor primary opposition, who his DFL opponent will be is just a little more uncertain. The primary will take place on September 12, leaving the Democrat nominee with just a relatively few short weeks to sprint towards Election Day. The DFL endorsed candidate and heavy favorite to win the primary is the state’s Attorney General, Mike Hatch. While one other major contender dropped out in favor of Hatch after the party delegates spoke, he remains challenged from the left by State Senator Becky Lourey, who also sought the job in 2002. Hatch has a steep advantage in campaign money and organizational support, particularly from labor, but the staunchly liberal Lourey has received some impressive endorsements for her campaign as well, including that of the socially conservative Congressman Jim Oberstar of the state’s Iron Range. Many of Lourey’s supporters point to her personal story, including her having seen several of her children pass away, including a son who was killed while serving in Iraq as a reason for why they support her. In a way, her candidacy for Governor is being used a vehicle for anti-war sentiments and Lourey has previously appeared with left-wing activist Cindy Sheehan.

DFL endorsed candidates have lost in primaries before and Republicans would certainly love to be able to face the polarizing Lourey, but if she was unable to stop Hatch at the state convention, which would have been more dominated by liberals than the primary will be, it is hard to see how she will be able to win a larger participation primary.

Hatch’s campaign thus far though has been far from controversy free. There was an incident when a Democrat candidate to replace Hatch as Attorney General was found to be conducting investigations into the party’s endorsed candidate for Governor and that candidate for Attorney General was ultimately forced to end his campaign. Many have also remarked as to how low key the race for Governor has been thus far, especially from Hatch, who seems to be gambling on the strategy of laying low as long as possible and trying to make a major push at the end of the campaign. Pawlenty, who had previously been occupied with the duties of his job during the legislative session, also has just gone on the airwaves with his first television advertisements.

Earlier this year, Democrat hopes were buoyed by a couple polls showing a very close race or Hatch even being a little ahead. More recently though, Pawlenty has begun to actively campaign, and with the exception of the online Zogby polls, which tend to gather a large amount of skepticism, Pawlenty has demonstrated a noticeable lead. The two most recent polls conducted under traditional methods, show the incumbent’s lead at 10 and 14 points.

Another factor to consider is the presence of minor parties and Independents on the ballot. The candidate of the Independence Party is likely to be Peter Hutchinson, who served as the state’s Finance Commissioner under the last DFL Governor. He is likely to be included in the debates, but unlike Ventura, who later formed the Independence Party in the state, Hutchinson does not seem like he could actually win the election. Then again, neither did Ventura at this point in 1998. Still though, there probably will be a lot less people fired up to vote for a former bureaucrat than an ex-wrestler/actor who had his own campaign action figure. When all is said and done, Hutchinson is still likely to score within the high single digits and most of the votes he will take are more apt to come from the Democrats than the Republicans. When that is taken into consideration, Pawlenty may not even need to win a majority of the vote in order to be reelected, which is how he initially won the office four years ago.

The fact that Hatch has been elected statewide before, and because of the fact that Minnesota is such a politically competitive state that typically sees high turnout, should mean that this will be a race worth watching. Governor Pawlenty’s current job performance numbers and lead over the Democrats in the polls however indicates that voters will be likely to not want to make yet another change in what has been a turbulent decade in Minnesota state politics. If Pawlenty is reelected, his name will be among those most mentioned for a spot on the national Republican ticket two summers from now.

Pawlenty campaign link:

2006 Governor races predicted thus far: 5 D, 14 R
Post-election total of Governors predicted thus far: 13 D, 20 R