Jesse 'The Body' Wins Minn. Gubernatorial Race
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 4, 1998; Page A1
Jesse "The Body" Ventura – pro wrestler, Navy SEAL and radio shock jock – won a three-way race for governor of Minnesota last night, delivering a harsh body blow to the political pros. He will be the nation's first governor to have his own action figure doll.
From out of nowhere, Ventura, a 6-foot-4, Porsche-driving populist running under the Reform Party banner, left St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman (R) and political scion Hubert H. Humphrey III (D), the state attorney general and son of the late vice president, bleeding on the mat.
Campaigning with little money for television ads but plenty of name recognition thanks to his wrestling, movie and talk radio careers, "The Body" at first seemed not to take his own candidacy seriously. He openly spoke of resuming his radio show after Election Day. But as his cut-rate campaign gained in the polls, Ventura kept the experts on edge with his odd pronouncements – he publicly pondered the merits of legalizing drugs and prostitution – and redubbed himself "The Mind."
"This is beyond the expectations that any of us felt, at least I did," an obviously stunned Ventura told shouting, barking supporters late last night. "The American Dream lives on in Minnesota as we shocked the world. I'll bet you they're never going to take the people lightly again, are they?" He flashed a sheepish, gap-toothed smile and his shaved head gleamed under the TV lights.
"Governor Body," as he called himself, will be the Reform Party's first governor. He will face a state legislature in which his party has not a single representative. Ventura appears to have little, if any, connection to Reform Party creator Ross Perot, sharing only the spirit of the Texas billionaire's shout against the status quo.
Ventura's Democratic and Republican opponents raised $4.3 million for their campaigns; Ventura spent $250,000.
"I'm embarrassed." said state Sen. Jane Krentz. "It'll be on 'Letterman' for the next week."
With support heavily concentrated among young men, Ventura roamed the state demonstrating his straight talk and regular-guy habits. He ate big burgers, talked of big tax breaks and quoted the big, deceased thinkers – Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead and the Doors' Jim Morrison.
But he remained best known for his long career as a pro wrestler, a cheating, thieving bad guy in the long-running TV spectacle. Ventura was so popular, he had his own action figure doll. His supporters produced a prototype for a gubernatorial version of the doll ("no strings attached," according to the campaign Web site). Next: a line of accessories, including companion dolls of "two-faced career politicians."
Ventura's powerful showing is more than that of a joke candidacy that caught on: In a state that gave independent presidential candidate Perot 24 percent of the vote in 1992, political scientists said, iconoclastic populism has become a steady draw at the ballot box. Minnesota's two senators reflect that, with Paul Wellstone (D) perhaps the Senate's most unreconstructed liberal and Rod Grams (R) among its most conservative voices.
Minnesota, hardly known for revolutionary fervor, is nonetheless a place where a smile and a wink go a long way. From the droll humor of Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion" to a political tradition that includes Harold Stassen and Eugene McCarthy, Minnesota is a state that is at once unusually civic-minded and singularly willing to go its own way.
What Ventura added to the mix was the unpredictability and eccentricity of a millionaire who made his fortune wearing sequins and a feather boa. The 47-year-old radio shock jock criss-crossed the state in a bus, downing half-pound cheeseburgers between speeches in which he promised to veto any tax hikes and reject all contributions of more than $50.
Humphrey had been expected to coast to victory off his $6 billion win over the tobacco industry in a popular liability lawsuit, and Coleman, a former Humphrey aide who switched parties, was expected to mount a reasonably strong challenge.
Ventura posed as Rodin's "The Thinker" in his last TV ad; an earlier episode portrayed him as an action figure fighting off Evil Special Interest Man. His campaign song was the theme from the movie "Shaft."
"I like Jesse because he wasn't mixed into that political scene," Ken Purmort, a 52-year-old graphic artist who voted for Ventura, told the Associated Press.
"People listen to 'The Body' and say he is no moron," said David Carr, editor of Washington City Paper and a former colleague of Ventura's at a Minneapolis radio station. "But really, he is a moron. What is wrong with these people? How can this happen in the state of Humphrey and Mondale? I suppose Ventura taps into that ambient atavism that's out there in the country."
More than half the voters in exit polls described themselves as moderate and nine in 10 said the state's economy is good or excellent. If it were not an overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction that led voters to Ventura, analysts pointed instead to a mix of the candidate's celebrity, a sense that politics doesn't especially matter and a chance to send a message to politicians.
Ventura lured thousands of young voters to the polls; 10 percent of those surveyed by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune said they would not have bothered to vote were "The Body" not on the ballot. And Ventura won nearly half of the vote among those under 30. Ventura did especially well among young men, according to the Star-Tribune poll.
About half of those polled said they found Ventura to be "in tune with Minnesotans." But Ventura was hardly taken seriously by the establishment. In its editorial endorsing Humphrey, the Star-Tribune dismissed the former wrestler as someone who "can claim no visible coalition of support."
Ventura's vault into state office is already being celebrated as art: the Minneapolis Art Institute has asked to display the Ventura action figure.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post