The DFL lieutenant governor candidate says she knows about ethanol but was just tired from a long day of campaigning.
A campaign gaffe by DFL Lt. Gov. candidate Judi Dutcher, who in a TV interview Tuesday appeared not to know what the ethanol fuel E85 is, flared Thursday into a firestorm of political sniping.
Answering an Alexandria TV reporter's question about E85 on Tuesday, Dutcher, the running mate of Attorney General Mike Hatch, at first did not hear the question, then said, "E85 -- the JOBZ zone you're talking about? Can't even comment on it, I'm sorry. It's like you've asked me the college quiz bowl question. What is E85?"
In Austin on Thursday, Dutcher said she does know about ethanol and E85, but was tired from campaigning and "just had one of those moments where my brain didn't kick into gear."
Dutcher said she had talked with several friends "in the farming community" who didn't think her comment was a big deal. "Ever talk about a mountain out of a molehill? This is it."
But when asked to describe the top ethanol priorities for a new administration, she deferred to Hatch to answer.
Ethanol itself has not been a big point of contention in the campaign, with all gubernatorial candidates supporting ethanol production from Minnesota corn.
Instead, the debate Thursday careened from qualifications to gender to big-money politics.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty questioned Dutcher's suitability as lieutenant governor.
"The campaign really is a job interview, and she has shown that she's unaware of one of the most important issues and economic tools for all of Greater Minnesota. And that's E85 ethanol," said Pawlenty, who is in a tight reelection race against Hatch.
Hatch retorted: "He's not running against Judi Dutcher, he's running against me. He ought to focus on me. ... I know a hell of a lot more about ethanol than Gov. Pawlenty could ever dream to. ... The governor is so desperate, he's so far behind, he's picking on a woman."
To which Assistant House Majority Leader Laura Brod, R-New Prague, responded: "For Mike Hatch to suggest that Judi Dutcher is above criticism because she is a woman is an insult to all the men and women of Minnesota who value honest public debate on the important issues facing our state."
Besides, said Pawlenty, "It isn't about whether you are a woman. It's not about gender. He's trying to use that as a smokescreen."
Well, said Hatch, "The governor upon learning about Judi's gaffe could have chosen to be a gentleman about it, but instead he organized a press conference and went on the attack."
Hatch said he never attacked Pawlenty when the governor misspoke while trying to say "puck" at the Wild's season opener two years ago.
The whole flap, Hatch suggested, may have been orchestrated by Stanley Hubbard, owner of KSTP-TV and the Alexandria station. KSTP aired Dutcher's gaffe Wednesday night.
Hubbard has donated $20,000 to an independent political committee called A Stronger America-Minnesota, which has begun running ads against Hatch.
"Stan Hubbard is a political hack and he has a news media station that is full of political hacks," Hatch said. "What they did is they took her out of context."
KSTP said Hubbard had nothing to do with the newscast.
In Mankato, where Hatch spoke Thursday morning, College Republicans stood outside holding ears of corn and a sign that read: "Trick question: What's E85?"
Outside Hatch campaign headquarters in St. Paul, a dozen Minnesota College Republicans mounted a lighthearted protest of Dutcher's comments, raising chants of "Ethanol! Ethanol! Ethanol!" and "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Judi Dutcher's got to go!" Costumed as an ear of corn, the group's treasurer, University of St. Thomas senior Tom Kalil, announced: "I am E85. Every Minnesotan should know about me!"
Link to Swift Boat attacks
Hatch, meanwhile, issued a counterattack on another front, claiming Thursday that A Stronger America-Minnesota is linked to an adviser for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacks against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.
A Stronger America-Minnesota registered in Minnesota a month ago, under an address in Alexandria, Va. Hatch said in a written statement he discovered that an insurance-industry backed group, Americans for Job Security, share the same address.
The attorney for Americans for Job Security is Benjamin Ginsberg, who was the attorney for the 2004 Bush campaign and for the Swift Boat Veterans. Ginsberg resigned from the Bush campaign when the media disclosed he was simultaneously working for both.
The spokesman for A Stronger-America-Minnesota, Joe Weber, didn't dispute the assertions Hatch made about Ginsburg, but said they were irrelevant.
The group has hired a local attorney, Doug Kelley, and is funded by Minnesota contributors, Weber said.
Staff writer Conrad deFiebre contributed to this report.