Commentary: After caucuses, Hatch, Lourey look good

ST. PAUL -- Becky Lourey was on the telephone the day after a precinct caucus poll showed her running in second place for the Minnesota DFL governor endorsement.

ST. PAUL -- Becky Lourey was on the telephone the day after a precinct caucus poll showed her running in second place for the Minnesota DFL governor endorsement.

A casual reading of the results could show the state senator from Kerrick well behind Attorney General Mike Hatch. That was not her reading.

"The race is wide open," she declared. "The news is very exciting."

Hatch topped the poll with support of 38 percent of DFL Party members who attended caucuses. Lourey took second with 23 percent, narrowly edging Sen. Steve Kelley of Hopkins, who polled just 0.3 of a point behind her.

Real estate developer Kelly Doran was way back, with just 6 percent support.


It would appear that Hatch is in a good position. Although he is well short of the 60 percent needed to win a state convention endorsement in June, it is becoming increasingly clear that the endorsement -- if there is one -- will not decide who runs against Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Minnesota's political process is a bit strange. Those attending caucuses decide who the delegates will be to future conventions this spring. They are the pool of political activists who will decide endorsements.

When Democrats gather in Rochester June 9-11, their major job will be to pick a candidate to face Pawlenty. At least they are supposed to endorse a candidate.

Lourey and Doran have said they will run in the Sept. 12 primary regardless of who wins the Rochester endorsement. Hatch probably will, too, unless he finishes far back.

Doran, in particular, has staked his entire political future on the primary, and his task before September is figuring out how to get people to the polls who often don't vote in primary elections.

Hatch, who has offended DFL activists in the past by ignoring the endorsement process, can claim a big caucus win among some folks who may not be his fans. He will be called the front-runner from here on, with numbers to back it up.

Hatch's numbers are especially surprising considering he has no full-time paid staff (although some unions are putting in a lot of time on his behalf), he has skipped most debates and he has been far short of impressive thus far in the campaign.

Lourey also is right in claiming a victory of sorts. She is a Becky-come-lately to the campaign as the newest candidate, although already well known for her Senate activity and an unsuccessful run for governor four years ago.


The best news for Lourey is that Kelley promises not to continue his campaign after the convention if he does not get endorsed. Given that, Lourey could expect to pick up many Kelley supporters in the primary

Kelley really needed to make a better caucus showing. As the only candidate to have pledged to abide by the endorsement process, he would need 60 percent of the convention votes to continue.

It is hard to see how Kelley could come out on top. His best hope is a deadlocked convention that turns to him. But there is an increasing amount of talk that the convention will end up endorsing no one.

That is just one more sign that the convention will mean little for the governor's race. DFLers will leave Rochester with three serious candidates who will fight it out all summer, draining funds and energy while Pawlenty moves ahead unchallenged in his party.

Don Davis is Capitol correspondent for the Pioneer.

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