Hack-Man Pro-Wrestling 'We Shocked The World!' Ventura Elected Governor Page

Last updated 21 April 2015

'We Shocked The World!' Ventura Elected Governor

By Dane Smith and Robert Whereatt

Jesse Ventura, a working-class Minneapolis kid who made a name as a professional wrestler and a minor actor in action movies, ambushed Minnesota's political establishment Tuesday by becoming governor.

He is the first Reform Party candidate in the nation to be elected governor. None has been elected to the U.S. Senate.

"It's overwhelming. We shocked the world," Ventura said around midnight at his victory party at Canterbury Park racetrack in Shakopee. "Nobody thought we had a chance."

He was declared the winner by Voter News Service, based on interviews as voters left the polls Tuesday.

The exit poll projected that Ventura would get about 37 percent of the vote, Republican Norm Coleman about 34 percent and DFLer Hubert Humphrey III about 28 percent.

Ventura's is the biggest victory by a third-party candidate in Minnesota since 1930, when Floyd B. Olson, a populist Farmer-Labor candidate running at the outset of the Depression, swept aside Democrats and Republicans.

Ventura's victory immediately drew national attention. NBC anchor Tom Brokaw asked him whether he should be addressed as Gov. Jesse Ventura or Gov. Jesse (The Body) Ventura.

The governor-elect replied that he doesn't go by that "moniker" anymore. Now he is Jesse (The Mind) Ventura, he said.

Later, he declared his immediate priority:

"My first agenda item, if I'm the winner, is to take a week off," he said to raucous cheers from his supporters.

Ventura's victory is a humiliating blow to both the Republican and DFL parties. Coleman and Humphrey each assumed that Ventura would draw more support from the other than from himself. They consistently regarded him as an amusing novelty and paid him the ultimate indignity by refusing to criticize him, which played right into Ventura's hands.

Early in the general election campaign, when Ventura was still fighting to get access to all the major debates, Humphrey refused to enter debates unless Ventura was on the platform.

It turned out to be an enormous favor. Ventura was, by consensus, the star of most of the debates. He was easily the funniest man on the stage, the plain speaker of homespun wisdom. He came off as a bit raw and uninformed at times and even that worked for him. He took great pride in noting that when he didn't understand the details of some issue or policy, he would proudly admit it. Ordinary working folks could look at Ventura, see that he sounded a lot like them, and root for him.

Ventura attributed his stunning upset to voters who "realized they wanted some honesty, and they were not getting that . . . from politicians in Washington and at home."

As wave after wave of results rolled in showing Ventura in the lead, Coleman told his crowd at the St. Paul Radisson to "keep the faith."

Humphrey, at the DFL Party's gathering at the Minneapolis Hilton, professed optimism after about half of the vote had been counted. "We're just coming around the corners. . . . I think they're going to be showing a Humphrey victory."

Coleman conceded the election at 12:45 a.m. "I will work with Jesse Ventura to move this state forward," he said.

Humphrey conceded at 12:50 a.m. He said he and his running mate had "spoken with Jesse, and we have congratulated him personally . . . and we want to wish him the very best in his new administration. The people have spoken, and we believe and trust in the people."

Humphrey aides who were analyzing results clearly were shocked by the outcome. Vic Moore, a top aide to Sen. Roger Moe, Humphrey's running mate, said Ventura carried the Fourth Ward in Minneapolis. "Those aren't young voters," said Moore, referring to Ventura's broad support among young voters and Humphrey's presumed appeal to older voters.

"If Ventura wins, it would be an astounding upset. They won't be talking about our weather anymore," Minneapolis City Council Member Jim Niland said earlier in the evening.

"So far, Ventura's numbers are just shocking."

As the night wore on, some DFLers expressed betrayed shock and even anger.

State Rep. Wes Skoglund, DFL-Minneapolis, said Ventura became a media favorite because he was considered unconventional and "a fun guy." He was critical of the media for not pressing Ventura.

"I never heard a reporter ask him a hard question. . . . Nobody really went after him," he said.

State Sen. Jane Krentz, DFL-May Township, said that Ventura had a lot of charisma and that people responded to his appearance of honesty.

"Skip is honest, but he's not as flashy," she said of Humphrey. "I'm embarrassed. . . . It'll be on 'Letterman' for the next week."

No help in Legislature

Ventura will take control of state government in January with no members of his Reform Party in the Legislature and little administrative experience among his top advisers.

Republicans, under new chairman Bill Cooper, raised unprecedented millions of dollars from the state's business establishment to help Coleman succeed Gov. Arne Carlson, who was one of Coleman's most ardent backers.

The DFL had the premiere name in Minnesota politics with Humphrey. He had high favorability ratings from his years as a consumer advocate, and he was coming off a big victory over tobacco companies, winning a $6.1 billion settlement for the state.

Ventura, never ahead in any statewide poll, mobilized tens of thousands of younger voters and broke many of the rules of conventional campaigning.

He shrugged off controversial ideas and statements, defended the idea of legalized drugs and prostitution. Played the macho working stiff unapologetically and thumbed his nose at political correctness. Even election night, he told his supporters that "It ain't over -- shall we get sexist? -- until the fat lady sings."


A preliminary look at the results in several regions indicated that Ventura was running particularly strong in several metropolitan counties.

In Anoka County, he was outpolling Humphrey and Coleman combined. He was beating Coleman in Ramsey County, Coleman's home turf. And in Hennepin and Dakota counties, he ran ahead of Humphrey while Coleman trailed in third place.

In Olmsted County, with Rochester's rock-solid Republican base, Coleman led Ventura. Humphrey was third with more than half of the vote counted. Humphrey, though, led in St. Louis County in northeastern Minnesota, a traditional DFL stronghold.

The GOP mailed absentee ballot applications to 750,000 households identified as sympathetic to Republicans, a tactic intended to increase Republican turnout. But while many counties reported a higher-than-usual absentee ballot count, some county election officials said those Minnesotans would have voted anyway.

Heavier-than-expected turnout was reported in many precincts.

"This is loony tunes here," said Eileen Corry, an election judge at a precinct on St. Paul's East Side, at Edgerton St. and Wheelock Pkwy. More than 600 people had voted by 6 p.m., Corry said; 120 of them were new registrants and counting machines had broken down twice. Corry, who has been an election judge for 25 years, said the turnout was larger than she's ever seen for a nonpresidential year.

However, one of the state's top election officials was reluctant to predict a stampede.

"I think it's fair to say, anecdotally, we're on track with Secretary of State Joan Growe's prediction of 53 percent" turnout, said Joe Mansky, state election director for the secretary of state office.

Fifty-three percent of eligible voters for a midterm election would be common, he said. "That's what we had with Perpich and Carlson in 1990," he said referring to the late Gov. Rudy Perpich and Arne Carlson, who won that election and who is leaving office in January.

Many of Ventura's supporters are thought to be nonvoters, so a larger-than-expected turnout could be a sign that he would do well. Officials in the secretary of state's office said it would be late today or early Thursday before the number and percentage of new registrants could be determined.

Changing script

In late June and after the party endorsing conventions, the most common scenario envisioned by candidates and their advisers, top party officials and the media, went something like this:

DFLers, with five strong candidates -- three sons of famous politicians and two other formidable candidates -- would wage an internecine war.

They would be tightly bunched on primary election day, and the winner would have to face a strong, unified Republican Party under Coleman in the general election.

Ventura all along was considered a powerful factor, a spoiler, the biggest name ever put forward by the Reform Party since its inception in 1992. But almost nobody expected him to exceed 15 percent of the vote in the general election.

That's not the way it turned out.

Staff writers Rob Hotakainen, Pat Doyle and Kevin Duchschere contributed to this report.

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