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 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. As of 2019, it is the most recent time a Republican was elected governor of Minnesota, or won any statewide race.
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.
Ole Savior, artist and perennial candidate. At the DFL state convention, Savior was eliminated on the first ballot for the party endorsement, after winning just one vote out of 1,500, but he continued to seek the nomination in the primary. Savior's running mate was Dan Fischer.
Steve Kelley, State Senator from senate district 44 since 1997, former State Representative from legislative district 44A (1993–97), and attorney. Kelley withdrew his candidacy on June 10, 2006, after failing to defeat Hatch in the endorsement fight, throwing his support behind Hatch's campaign.
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 was 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.
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, Independence Party candidate Peter Hutchinson, and Green Party candidate Ken Pentel. After Pawlenty opted out of spending limits, Hatch followed suit. Outspending Hatch by $1 million, Pawlenty's campaign set a new spending record for a Minnesota gubernatorial campaign. The race was also affected by negative advertising by 527 groups, as well as issue-oriented groups opposing liberal causes in the state.
A major issue in the campaign that was considered to have hurt the DFL nominees was lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Judi Dutcher's response to a question about 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 in this article, is believed to have swung the race. It put Hatch on the defensive in the campaign's last week.
Additionally, Pawlenty made illegal immigration an issue, running ads accusing Hatch of trying to give illegal immigrants college tuition. 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 Hatch disputed. Pawlenty campaigned on a record of leading the state through hard times, balancing record budget deficits without raising major state tax rates or diminishing the state's "nation-leading" status on most socioeconomic indicators.
Pawlenty won by piling up large margins in suburban counties as well as in central and southern Minnesota regions anchored by St. Cloud and Rochester. In his victory speech, noting that he would have to deal with a DFL House and Senate, Pawlenty said 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, and won by large margins 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 this would have been one of his administration's first goals.