Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s stand against the DFL Legislature was the first and perhaps not the last of full-contact politics on the road that is the 2010 governor’s race. The race got a well-timed launch recently with KSTP’s Survey USA poll matching a long list of declared and undeclared candidates against Pawlenty. But one hard-nosed populist DFLer’s name was missing: Mike Hatch.
Horse race politics is fun 18 months before an election, but no real insight or clear indicators can be gleaned from the poll. Of the list of nine potential DFL candidates, all were defeated by Pawlenty in the very early hypothetical match-ups.
The DFL field will be the most hotly contested gubernatorial primary since 1998, which was coined the “My Three Sons” race between the sons of DFL icons: Humphrey, Freeman and Mondale. The DFL’s two most recent big names to have run against Pawlenty are Roger Moe and Hatch.
Hatch has been on the ballot either in a DFL primary or general election in every statewide election since 1990. If Hatch doesn’t run, 2010 will be the first time in 20 years he isn’t on the ballot. That doesn’t mean he won’t be a player. In fact, many insiders think it is a matter of when, not if, Hatch finds a way to insert himself into the governor’s race.
Challenged his boss
History has proven that Hatch plays politics in full-contact fashion. His rise within the DFL started as party chair, and then in 1990 he challenged his boss who appointed him commerce commissioner, Gov. Rudy Perpich. The bruising primary was a major factor in Perpich becoming so vulnerable that GOP late-comer Arne Carlson was able to beat him after the John Grunseth swimming-pool scandal.
Hatch then became a major factor in the 1994 race when, during the DFL convention, his delegates selected state Sen. John Marty over Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman because, some believe, Marty was considered easier to beat in the primary — where Hatch was waiting, and later lost.
He ultimately won election in 1998, when he ran for attorney general and defeated the DFL endorsed candidate. He then shook up the AG’s office by changing staff and policies established by his predecessor, Skip Humphrey. Two successful terms as AG positioned Hatch to run against Pawlenty in 2006. In a bruising battle, Hatch lost by a mere 21,000 votes with more than 3 million cast.
Along the way to his narrow defeat, Hatch encountered one player who tried to play politics at a similar battle speed and intensity. His name is Matt Entenza. As House minority leader, Entenza had been effective in putting the DFL within striking distance of the majority. But instead of trying to become speaker, Entenza took a shot to be attorney general. In his effort, he conducted opposition research on Hatch — a move many considered risky considering Hatch’s volatility and the support each had within the party.
In the end, both Hatch and Entenza lost. But the fact that Entenza’s name never landed on the ballot, despite his DFL-endorsement, can be attributed to a couple of factors: Hatch’s behind-the-scenes hardball politics and Entenza’s poor handling of the op-research allegations that surfaced in the media. In the end Hatch’s protégé, Lori Swanson, won the AG’s race after defeating a last-minute replacement for Entenza on the DFL primary ballot.
Now Entenza has launched what is expected to be a well-financed campaign to be governor. In a crowded field, his wealth and hard-nosed nature will be a factor that others in the race will have to confront. While no one publicly knows the extent of Entenza’s commitment to finance his campaign, one element is likely to emerge: Hatch still considers Entenza’s opposition research of him in 2006 a deadly political sin. And Hatch isn’t likely to forgive in 2010.
Hatch, now in private practice and a regular political commentator, may not be angling to be on the ballot in 2010, but don’t expect him to sit idly by. If he feels his hard-ball brand of populism has a place in the race, be assured Mike Hatch will appear.