The 2006 Minnesota gubernatorial election took place on November 7, 2006. Incumbent Tim Pawlenty was endorsed by the state Republican convention on June 2, 2006, while the state Democratic–Farmer–Labor convention endorsed Mike Hatch on June 10, 2006. The statewide party primaries took place on September 12, 2006, with Hatch defeating DFL challengers Becky Lourey and Ole Savior and incumbent Pawlenty defeating Sue Jeffers. In the November 7 general election Pawlenty received a plurality of the votes, defeating Hatch by a margin of one percent.
It is widely believed that Hatch's lead in the polls quickly evaporated just days before the election after his running mate's response to a question about ethanol posed by a KSAX-TV reporter.
Tim Pawlenty (R) – incumbent governor, ex-State House majority leader. Endorsed by the state Republican party after winning the first ballot, unopposed.
Mike Hatch (DFL) – Attorney General & ex-State Commerce Commissioner. Sought the party endorsement for governor two times in the past. Got the strongest showing in the statewide caucus straw poll, and continued to hold his lead into the party convention, in which he received the endorsement after seven ballots.
Peter Hutchinson (IP) – Ex-State Finance Commissioner, Ex-Minneapolis Schools Superintendent & Consultant. Won the party straw poll in March, and was endorsed at the June 24 convention as the party favorite.
Sue Jeffers (R) – Owner of Minneapolis bar Stub and Herbs, known for her opposition to smoking bans and non-public use of eminent domain. A self-described Libertarian Republican. Also endorsed by the Libertarian Party and the Minnesota and National chapters of the Republican Liberty Caucus. Even though she was included in neither the statewide caucus straw poll nor the party endorsement process, she challenged Pawlenty for the Republican nomination in the September primary. The Libertarian Party withdrew their endorsement, as Minnesota law does not allow fusion candidates.
Becky Lourey (DFL) – State Senator, Ex-State Representative, Businesswoman and 2002 Candidate. Was eliminated from the nomination process after the fourth ballot at the state convention. Challenged the party endorsement in the statewide primary.
Steve Kelley (DFL) – State Senator, Ex-State Rep., Attorney & 2000 US Senate Candidate. Withdrew his nomination on June 10, 2006 after failing to defeat Hatch in the endorsement fight, throwing his support behind Hatch's campaign.
Kelly Doran (DFL) – Real estate developer and former 2006 U.S. Senate candidate. Withdrew his nomination on March 24, 2006.
Ole Savior (DFL) – Artist and frequent candidate. After only receiving one vote (out of 1,500) in the first ballot, was eliminated from the party endorsement process. Challenged the endorsement in September.
Bud Philbrook (DFL) – Ex-State Rep., Non-Profit Group Executive Director & Attorney. Withdrew his nomination on October 24, 2005.
Jonathon "The Impaler" Sharkey (VWP) – Self-proclaimed vampire. Sharkey's campaign was jeopardized on January 30, 2006 when he was arrested in Princeton, Minnesota on felony charges stemming from allegations of stalking and flight, in Indiana. Sharkey's campaign website has been taken down. It was discovered that the stalking charge had been dismissed on September 29, 2003 when Sharkey pleaded guilty to two counts of invasion of privacy and was ordered to submit to mental health treatment. At his trial on July 18, 2006, he was found not guilty of the felony escape charge. Nevertheless, Sharkey's arrest and jailing effectively terminated his campaign.
One big issue that was seen to hurt the DFL nominees was Lieutenant Governor candidate Judi Dutcher's gaffe of not being able to identify E-85. When asked about the impact of the gasoline alternative on the economies of rural Minnesota by then KSAX-TV anchor Corey Poppe, Dutcher was unable to comment, asking Poppe to define E-85. In the subsequent questioning about her response, gubernatorial candidate Mike Hatch reportedly called a Forum Communications reporter "a Republican whore" and promptly hung up the phone.. Hatch claimed he had said "hack", not "whore", but the incident, occurring only three days before the last poll listed here, is believed to have swung the race. It put Hatch on the defensive in the last week of the campaign.
On November 7, 2006, Tim Pawlenty narrowly won the general election, 46.7% to 45.7%, in a four-way race between himself, DFL candidate Mike Hatch, the Independence Party candidate, Peter Hutchinson, and the Green Party candidate, Ken Pentel. After Pawlenty opted out of spending limits, Hatch followed suit. Pawlenty outspent Hatch by $1 million. In addition, the race was affected by negative advertising by 527 groups attacking the opposition, as well as issue-oriented groups opposing liberal causes in the state.
Pawlenty made illegal immigration an issue, running ads accusing Hatch of trying to give college tuition to illegal immigrants. Hatch responded with an ad saying that illegal immigration laws had not been enforced under Pawlenty's tenure. Pawlenty also ran ads accusing Hatch of being responsible for raising health care costs, a claim that Hatch disputed. Pawlenty campaigned on a record of leading the state through hard times, balancing record budget deficits without raising major state tax rates, and without diminishing the state's "nation-leading" status on most socio-economic indicators.
Pawlenty won by piling up big margins in suburban counties as well as in central and southern Minnesota regions anchored by St. Cloud and Rochester, Minnesota. In his victory speech, noting the fact that he would have to deal with both a DFL House and Senate, Pawlenty said that it was "a time tonight to be humble and time to be grateful." He promised that "the next four years are going to be different than the last four years" and that he would build "a common agenda" with DFLers who swept legislative and constitutional offices.
Hatch ran ahead in Minneapolis, St. Paul and their inner-ring suburbs. He had big margins in the DFL strongholds around Duluth and the Iron Range.
In his concession speech, Hatch advocated that legislators get back to "sitting down and getting to know each other in private" in order to establish common ground for bipartisan legislation, and called for an end to partisan rancor. Had the Hatch/Dutcher ticket been successful, he stated that it would have been one of the first goals of his administration.