The latest suggested topic from the Smart Politics Mailbox poses the following query in the wake of the Minnesota Gubernatorial race: should Mike Hatch have distanced himself like he did from fellow DFL 5th Congressional District victor Keith Ellison? Did Hatch’s failure to endorse Ellison signify a lack of outreach to the district’s urban voters? An analysis of Hatch’s performance in Ellison’s 5th Congressional district suggests Hatch’s strategy did not lead to his undoing.
First, Hatch significantly improved on Roger Moe’s 2002 performance in the 14 state House legislative districts that comprise most of Ellison’s 5th Congressional District: 44B, 45B, 50A, 58A, 58B, 59A, 59B, 60A, 60B, 61A, 61B, 62A, 62B, 63A. (An additional 6 state House districts partially overlap with CD-5: 44A, 45A, 50B, 51B, 54A, and 63B and were not included in this analysis). Hatch noticeably gained support in each of these districts, by an average of 11 points per district overall (from a low of 7.5 points in 44B to a high of 15.2 points in 61A).
One might speculate that Hatch’s improvement over Moe is due to the fact that Moe faced a tougher Independence Party candidate in Tim Penny than did Hatch in Peter Hutchinson: Penny received more than double the support of Hutchinson statewide. However, not all voter support for Independence Party candidates comes at the expense of the DFL. Therefore, Smart Politics also examined Tim Pawlenty’s performance in 2002 and 2006 in these same 14 districts. In light of Hutchinson’s weaker performance as compared to Tim Penny, Pawlenty’s support should have also risen alongside Hatch. But it didn’t.
In 2006 Pawlenty’s support dropped in 12 of these 14 state House districts compared to 2002, and by 1.7 points overall. Pawlenty only received a higher percentage of votes in 2006 in Districts 44B (by 0.2 points) and 58B (by 1.0 points). In other words, Hatch regained most of the DFL base in CD-5 lost by the party in the 1998 and 2002 campaigns in which strong third party candidates upset the two-party apple cart.
It is true that Hatch did not perform as strongly in CD-5 as the other four DFL candidates running for statewide office. U.S. Senator-elect Amy Klobuchar garnered an average of 76.3 percent of the vote in these districts, Secretary of State-elect Mark Ritchie won 71.1 percent, Attorney General-elect Lori Swanson won 70.6 percent, and State Auditor-elect Rebecca Otto won 69.1 percent. However, Hatch’s 65.6 percent was noticeably higher than the average vote won by Ellison in these districts (Ellison won 55.6 percent of the overall vote in CD-5). In fact, Hatch outperformed Ellison in each of these 14 state House districts.
It is true Ellison faced a stronger Independence Party candidate (Tammy Lee) than did Hatch (Peter Hutchinson). However, it is also true Hatch faced a far stronger Republican opponent (in a fairly popular Governor-elect Tim Pawlenty) than did Ellison in his race (Alan Fine, who did not perform strongly in most of the debates). This helps to explain why although Hatch improved on Moe’s numbers in CD-5, he did not quite reach the level of support of Klobuchar, Ritchie, Swanson, and Otto.
In sum, while it is possible Hatch could have picked up more support among Ellison supporters in CD-5 by more closely aligning himself with him, it is perhaps just as likely Hatch could have lost as many if not more of his weak supporters statewide by associating himself with a candidate who was perceived as controversial. The Hatch campaign can lament certain missteps it took during the last weeks of the election season, but failing to endorse Ellison was not one of them.