Live reporting from IP headquarters

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10:50 p.m.
Hutchinson begins his concession speech (he trails a deadlocked Hatch and Pawlenty, 45 to 7 percent) with an anecdote about a marathon runner finishing last in the Olympics. “Minnesota didn’t sent us here just to start this race, they sent us here to finish it.”
And he didn’t forget his sense of humor: “I Don’t know who the next governor of Minnesota is going to be, but I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be me.”

He applauds his supporters and family, and points to all the precedents the campaign set during the past four months: their Internet campaign, marketing and visibility, and policy. “We had Indie, for crying out,” he says of the party’s mascot.

From policy proposals, ad campaigns, and overall humor and fun, the campaign topped all the rest, he says. “We ran the campaign we wanted to run. We ran a campaign to change politics in Minnesota.”

10:30 p.m.
I run into Hutchinson’s daughters near the ballroom doors. Emily and Julia have been working non-stop on their first political campaign for the past six month, so I ask them how their life was going to change after tonight.

“We’ll get some sleep,” Emily says.

Would you do it again?

“In a minute,” she replies.

10 p.m.
Lee climbs onto stage to give her concession speech, having phoned Keith Ellison to congratulate him on his victory minutes earlier.
“We can hold our heads high. We ran the best possible race we could,” she tells her supporters, who crowd around the stage, chanting “OH-eight!, OH-eight!”

“I have absolutely no regrets, none whatsoever,” she says, as the chants continue. “But, please, no more talk about 2008. I’m just trying to get through November 8th.”

After her remarks, she tells me she’s not ready to even begin thinking about whether she’ll entertain another campaign in two or four years. “We’ll see what happens,” she says.

9:50 p.m.
The IP brain trust is huddled around a computer screen upstairs, watching the Fifth District results coming in. One of the staffers remarks how surprised he is about how well Fine is doing (he’s leading Lee by less than a percentage point). Another laments that the campaign “didn’t work its base” early enough. “With another two weeks, it would’ve been a different ballgame,” he says.

9:25 p.m.
Hutchinson takes the stage and announces amid the raucous ovation, “This is what it feels like when you change politics in Minnesota.”

After expressing his thanks to what seemed to be several hundred campaign workers and supporters, he coyly announced, “I’ve never run for office before. I might do it again.”

The crowd exploded. Pe-TER, Pe-TER, Pe-TER!!!

“There’s a condition,” he says, pausing for effect. “But only if I got to do it with a team of supporters, loved ones and candidates like I had this time.”

9:15 p.m.
U.S. Senate candidate Robert Fitzgerald, who looks barely old enough to run for student council, introduces Tammy Lee, who doesn’t look a lot older. She introduces her campaign team, her “extended” family and friends, and launches into a lively celebration of the IP.

“I have been proud every single day I’ve been in this party,” she says.

And though the returns at this point are showing Ellison (55 percent) and Republican Alan Fine (21.5 percent) leading Lee (20 percent) in the balloting, she notes that it’s still early. “The suburbs have not reported yet, and the suburbs are where I’m leading,” she says.

I’m waiting for her to mention The Stewart Mystery (at least tangentially), and I’m not disappointed, as she notes how proud she is of the campaign she’s run. “We not only reclaimed the middle ground,” she says. “We reclaimed the high ground in this race.”

The numbers may not reflect it, Lee says finally, “But no matter what the outcome tonight, we won this race.”

8:30 p.m.
The band is drowning out all conversation, so it’s a little hard to hear Peter Hutchinson as we talk near the ballroom door. As usual, he’s nonchalant, upbeat, a little awed by his surroundings. I really want to ask him about what I’ve now decided to call “The Stewart Mystery,” but it just seems like it would be a little tangential, maybe even capricious . . . .

So we talk campaigning and the future of the party. He says he’s “ecstatic” about the race he’s run, and when I ask him what he’s going to do tomorrow, when it’s all over, he looks at me with a wide grin. “I don’t know. We may still be here tomorrow.”

The IP Web site has been on fire the last two days, he informs me, a fact that would be ironic, given that it’s a little late to make a difference in the governor’s race. I want to say that it might have something to do with The Stewart Mystery, but I restrain myself.

On his own political future, and that of his party, Hutchinson says he’ll do “whatever it takes” to build the IP into a political power. He even says he’d “absolutely” run again.

The gubernatorial campaign, as a whole, he says, was “very distant from the voters,” because the two major party candidates ducked so many debates. The IP, he says, “didn’t have enough oomph to force” the issue.

But the IP campaign did establish some precedents and traditions that Hutchinson says will surely continue in future campaigns. For one, “there will always be a team,” he says. And the party proved this year that it could raise a significant amount of money—more than Jesse Ventura in 1998 or Tim Penny in 2002. The party has also managed to “brand” itself as a political force that’s distinctive. “We’re not the third version of the other two,” he says.

8 p.m.
Tammy Lee enters the room with her young daughter and is greeted by a great ovation. Resplendent in white jacket and black skirt, she’s immediately surrounded by cameras and well-wishers. She shakes some hands before I catch her attention.

“What do you think about this Stewart thing?” I ask.

She frowns. “It’s very disappointing,” she says, pointing out that Stewart has been campaigning on a platform that includes “ending racial identity.” She called the parody site the “lowest, most vile form of sleazeball campaigning.”

The party is considering legal action, she says, which could set some legal precedent around Internet campaigning.

The incident reflects badly on Keith Ellison, who endorsed Stewart, she says. “It just knocked me for a loop,” she adds. “It must show that I’m a threat.”

7:45 p.m.
Now, I can ask any IP loyalist about the mysterious Chris Stewart parody site and they’ll offer a less-than-guarded opinion. Dan Justesen says he was surprised that Stewart could be involved in such a thing. “He seemed to be such a nice guy,” he says. “I thought he was too articulate to write such things.”

We’re joined by the IP’s p.r. chair, Laura Knudsen, but before I can ask her what she thinks of the situation, she admits to misspelling the party’s name on her orange-and-white name tag. “They’re going to find a new p.r. chair,” she predicts, without a trace of disappointment.

7:30 p.m.
Back upstairs again, where I’m ushered over to a computer screen, showing more evidence of the Stewart gambit. It appears that his campaign manager Sarah Greenfield, when notified that the IP techie had traced the parody site to Stewart’s site, convinced him to shut it down.

“I’ve got all the e-mails,” the techie says.

Greenfield clicked on the e-mail link eight times, according to the techie’s records. “Clearly there was much anxiety on their end.”

7:15 p.m.
Stevie Wonder is now booming throughout the ballroom, where the crowd is beginning to amass, awaiting the arrival of the candidates, who are sequestered upstairs in a room with their spouses.

Sixth District candidate John Binkowski, tall and impossibly gangly, is making the rounds in a tasteful black suit, drinking in the atmosphere of his very first electoral run. There are TV and radio interviews to do and, after four months of campaigning, he knows just what to say.

“We’re going to surprise some people,” he tells me.

6:30 p.m.
I’m wandering around the lobby of the Hyatt, desperately trying to catch a Wi-Fi signal, when I run into a high-level IP operative who ushers me upstairs into the party’s staff room. Somewhat breathlessly, she informs that the parody Tammy Lee site I wrote about yesterday has been tracked to DFL School Board candidate Chris Stewart. “It was pretty over-the-top, don’t you think?” she asks.

A little later, IP chair Jim Moore corroborates the charge, saying that the party’s “forensic” research led them directly to two of Stewart’s sites. It was a bit ironic, given that the IP had actually talked with Stewart about running under its banner. “He spent a whole day with Peter Hutchinson,” Moore says, shaking his head. “I’m not sure I want someone like that running the schools.”

5 p.m.
Independence Party staffers are busy setting up shop at the Hyatt Hotel downtown Minneapolis, and according to communications director Melanie Soucheray, the IP faithful are in high spirits.

Well, not everyone.

Soucheray’s a bit miffed by the fact that the hotel refuses to throw in Internet access as part of the cost of the ballroom. “They want to charge us an arm and a leg for it,” she said.

Three hundred bucks for an Internet hook-up may not seem like a big deal to a campaign that has raised and spent a bit more than $1 million during this election season, but for the IP, it’s just another irritating sign of disrespect that demands an innovative response.

“Our tech guy says he may be able to get us into their Wi-Fi signal,” Sourcheray says, just a hint of triumph in her voice.

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