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Fundraising letter indicates Hatch has eye on Pawlenty's job
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Mike Hatch says he won't make a final decision on the race until this summer, but he clearly relishes the chance to challenge Pawlenty. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
Attorney General Mike Hatch has taken another step toward running for governor in 2006. Hatch sent a fundraising letter to DFL contributors, asking them to help him finance a gubernatorial campaign. While the election is still a year and a half away, Hatch isn't the only Democrat considering the governor's race.

St. Paul, Minn. — Earlier this year, Hatch sent a letter to DFL activists essentially asking them whether he should run for governor in 2006. Now he's asking for their financial support. Hatch says if he decides to challenge Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, he'll need to raise a lot of money.

"I'm not going to be at the Minneapolis Club pulling down the big figure contributions. The only way I run, it's going to be from small contributors, and that's an issue," Hatch says.

Hatch says he won't make a final decision on the race until this summer, but he clearly relishes the chance to challenge Pawlenty.

"I'm not happy with the way the state's being managed -- absolutely not happy with it. It is very heavy on public relations and very light on the content," according to Hatch.

Mike Hatch would not enter this race as the favorite, and you have to wonder why he would take that risk if he really enjoys his job, because he could probably stay in his current job as long as he'd like.
- Steven Schier

Hatch says Pawlenty has underfunded health care and education, and is critical of the governor's record on job creation.

Pawlenty hasn't formally announced his re-election campaign, but has said he plans to run for a second term.

The latest Star Tribune Minnesota poll showed Pawlenty's job approval rating at 56 percent, and Republican Party Executive Director Bill Walsh says Pawlenty is in a strong position for 2006. But Walsh acknowledges Hatch would be a formidable opponent, as the only Democrat holding a constitutional office, if Hatch decides to run.

"I think the question is whether he's serious about running. He's been in, he's been out, he sends out little feelers, he says 'I'm happy being attorney general' or 'I'm not going to run for governor again.' So the question is: do we trust he's really running, and maybe we'll have to wait until he files next year to believe it," Walsh says.

Hatch has run unsuccessfully for governor twice in 1990 and 1994. He's in the middle of his second term as attorney general.

Political scientist Steven Schier of Carleton College questions why Hatch would want to challenge an incumbent with a 56-percent approval rating.

"Mike Hatch would not enter this race as the favorite, and you have to wonder why he would take that risk if he really enjoys his job, because he could probably stay in his current job as long as he'd like," according to Schier.

Hatch isn't the only Democrat putting out gubernatorial feelers. State Sen. Steve Kelley and Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson are considering the race, and former legislator Bud Philbrook is actively campaigning. Philbrook is a former assistant DNR commissioner from the Perpich administration and the founder of Global Volunteers, who admits he's a relative unknown. He's been holding house parties around the state, and says at a recent event, a participant reassured him.

"She said, 'don't worry about that name ID stuff. In this day of modern communications, you can go from unknown to annoying in six weeks.' I don't plan to be annoying, but the point is well taken, the name identification is not what I'm concerned about," he says.

Philbrook is well aware that a Democrat hasn't won the governor's race since 1986. Still, he and other potential candidates believe that Pawlenty is vulnerable. The newly elected chair of the state DFL Party, Brian Melendez, believes that the governor's poll numbers will drop.

"I think people are starting to sense that his policies are leading Minnesota in the wrong direction, and some recent polling we've done indicates that voters are sensing that," Melendez says.

Pawlenty's supporters disagree, and say voters approve of the way Pawlenty has led the state during difficult budget times. He also entered this year with nearly half a million dollars in his campaign account, which may be daunting for potential challengers.

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