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November 3, 2006
Has She Heard Of Corn?

In the Upper Midwest, anyone who has pumped their own gas or has some vague knowledge of either agricultural or energy policy has heard of E85. A Google search on the term finds 3.5 million references to it on the Internet, and with gas tax policy a key issue in Minnesota, one would expect candidates for executive office here to at least recognize the term. Apparently all of this is a little too much to ask for Judi Dutcher, the empty suit selected by Democrat Mike Hatch as his running mate in his attempt to unseat Governor Tim Pawlenty:

The DFL lieutenant governor candidate got more attention Thursday than her gubernatorial partner Mike Hatch after a gaffe caught on tape earlier this week. She handed Democrats a self-inflicted wound when she admitted that she'd never heard of an ethanol fuel blend called E-85.

"It's like you've asked me the college quiz bowl question," Dutcher told a TV reporter this week in Alexandria. "What is E-85?"

On a campaign swing through southern Minnesota, Dutcher and Hatch tried to demonstrate that they are in tune with farm issues and spent much of the day fielding questions about her understanding of renewable fuels and other agricultural issues. ...

Everyone in farm country knows E-85 is a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Farmers around the Midwest are betting that demand for petroleum alternatives will boost corn prices, and questions about ethanol subsidies are often the first thing politicians hear on rural stops. So Dutcher's gaffe — which hit the airwaves late Wednesday — was the topic of the day in the slugfest between Hatch and GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Perhaps it isn't Dutcher's fault that she didn't recognize the term. In a lengthy position paper on Mike Hatch's website, he mentions E85 once, and never mentions the word ethanol. On the other hand, Tim Pawlenty notes that he has doubled the amount of ethanol in Minnesota's blend (from 10% to 20%) and ordered all state vehicles to run on E85. Pawlenty has also helped make Minnesota one of the top five producers of ethanol in the nation and the leader in the use of biofuels.

Hatch took an interesting tactic in responding to Dutcher's gaffe. He argued that Dutcher is irrelevant:

"He's not running against Judi Dutcher, he's running against me," Hatch retorted. "He ought to focus on me."

Well, Minnesotans might be very interested to know that Hatch selected a running mate with the thought in mind that she would not make any difference at all. The LG, after all, would run the state in the event that the governor could or would not be able to continue in office. Most Minnesotans expect the #2 to have the ability to take the wheel in short order, and to be able to tell what kind of fuel to put in the car, for that matter. If Hatch thinks that his choice for LG has no bearing on the race, perhaps that will tell Minnesotans a little about Hatch's judgment, too.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 3, 2006 5:44 AM

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