Youth voters and immigration concerns just might have driven Dave "Hutch" Hutchinson to a stunning upset over Rich Stanek

His unexpected success was driven by younger voters, many of whom were primarily motivated by concerns over Stanek's approach to immigration.

Jared Goyette
November 07, 2018 - 9:43 am

Photo courtesy of David Hutchinson for Hennepin County Sheriff


The latest results show that Dave “Hutch” Hutchinson has upset incumbent Rich Stanek in the race for Hennepin County Sheriff by a razor-thin margin.

With all precincts reporting, Hutch holds a 2,329 vote lead over Stanek, with the totals at 264,511 for Hutch and 262,182 for Stanek. Less than half of a percentage point, or .44 percent, separate the two men, 49.93% compared with 49.49%.

The margin of victory for Hutch stands at less than the total of write-in votes, or 3,103 votes and 0.59%.

"I feel great, our team feels great," Hutch told WCCO's Roshini Rajkumar on Wednesday morning. "The numbers are close but I think we got it."

Hutch said he has yet to talk with Stanek about the election results.

"I don't know how that's going to play out," Hutch said. "I haven't heard from him, and that's fine. We're just working now on a transition team."

The results were posted in the early morning hours and Stanek hasn’t commented. A recount appears likely. If Hutch, a Metro Transit Police sergeant, does hold on to win, he’ll be first openly gay sheriff in the Midwest, according to the Star Tribune.

Hutch was considered the underdog in the race against Stanek, a 12-year incumbent. His unexpected success was in part driven by younger voters, many of whom were primarily motivated by one highly partisan issue: immigration.

As is evident on Twitter, young progressives in Minneapolis flocked to Hutch’s campaign. Many were angered by Stanek's support for President Trump, what they saw as his department’s overly cooperative approach toward Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and his decision to send deputies to Standing Rock to help clear the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in 2017.

"We can;t have anybody, immigrant, documented or undocumented, to be scared to file a report with the police," Hutch said."We can't have that or else we can't do our jobs as public safety officials."

Immigration was a particularly important driver in the race, according to WCCO Radio political analyst Blois Olson.   

“A boosted younger voter turnout in a Midterm proved to be an advantage for Hutch because of their enthusiasm and their feelings on these immigration issues. Younger voters are also more likely to be voters of color in the City of Minneapolis, and they were very passionate about this,” Olson said.

Immigration advocates and the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office criticized Stanek in 2017 for the department’s practice of alerting ICE whenever foreign nationals were detained at the Hennepin County Jail. However, later, documents showing correspondence between ICE and the Sheriff’s office indicated two agencies had a contentious relationship. Activists also allege that Hennepin County transfers immigrants to ICE at a higher rate than other regional jails, and in November, the Minneapolis City Council cited these concerns when passing a resolution seeking to renegotiate the city’s contract with the Sheriff’s Department.

Stanek also drew the left’s ire by appearing with President Trump last year as part of a meeting of the National Sheriff’s Association. The meeting happened in the wake of the controversial travel ban. Trump asked Stanek, “And you do have a big problem with the refugees pouring in, don't you?" and Stanek replied, “Yes we do, sir,” before going on to say he supports the president’s efforts to increase the vetting of refugees. After the meeting, Stanek told the Star Tribune that he was “proud to be there,” and the thought Trump had the association’s back.

As the midterms transformed into a referendum on Trump, Stanek found himself in a difficult position. Hillary Clinton won Hennepin County by 34 percent—and Clinton took the unusual step of wadding into a county sheriff’s race by endorsing Hutch.

Mike Erlandson, a Democratic strategist who was part of WCCO Radio’s election night coverage, said that Stanek’s support for Trump on immigration had “fired up” progressives, particularly young people and the immigrant community.

“It was a race that was defined around an issue of one candidate tending to stand up with the president who is certainly a lightning rod in Hennepin County,” Erlandson said.

One of those progressives was Rory Fleming, a lawyer and criminal justice reform activist. He said that he saw Hutch’s success as part of a national trend of progressives focusing more on criminal justice in local elections, and on the intersection between police and immigration enforcement.

“People used to not pay too much to partisanship in law enforcement races, especially in states like Minnesota where these offices are technically nonpartisan, but the Trump era changed that,” he said.

Listen to Hutch talking with Roshini on WCCO radio: