Fore! Could a Ventura Senate candidacy hang on Wednesday’s golf game?

In November 2002, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura appointed Independent Dean Barkley to fill the remaining two-month term of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.
REUTERS/Eric Miller
In November 2002, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura appointed Independent Dean Barkley to fill the remaining two-month term of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.

On a golf course somewhere in the Twin Cities Wednesday, Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race may take on a new dimension.

Dean Barkley, the man behind the Independence Party movement in the state, is scheduled to play golf with his old boss, Jesse Ventura. Barkley wants this to be a high-stakes game.

“Whoever wins the match does NOT run for Senate,” said Barkley. “And believe me, I can beat Jesse.”

That means Ventura runs for Senate?

“I’d love to see it,” said Barkley.

If  Ventura doesn’t run, Barkley may.

Would incumbent automatically win plurality in 3-way race?
There are some who are urging Ventura not to run in this race against incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and the DFL’s endorsed candidate, Al Franken. The feeling among those who don’t think he should run is that in a three-way race, an incumbent could win at least a plurality.

Recall, in 1998, when there was no incumbent, that Ventura won the governor’s race with 37 percent of the vote. That year, Coleman received 34 percent of the vote and DFLer Skip Humphrey received 28 percent.

Barkley, who was the brains behind the Ventura campaign, doesn’t believe that Coleman could be assured of a plurality. He believes that both Coleman and Franken are weak candidates and argues that neither is particularly likable and that both are running away from their pasts.

“You’ve got Norm Coleman trying to re-invent himself as Amy Klobuchar,” said Barkley. “I think the only person who think he’s getting away with it is him. And Franken is trying to re-invent himself as this serious politician after all those years where he was supposed to be funny. This stuff (Franken’s past career material) is just going to keep coming at him. He could weather it, if he was more likable. But from what I’ve seen, he’s not.”

How is it that Ventura could weather his past as a crazed pro wrestler who admitted to steroid use and other non-“main street” lifestyles? 

“Jesse never changed who he was,” said Barkley. “He always said exactly what he thought, and people respected that. He’s still that way.”

Barkley made people sit up and take notice of the Independence movement in 1992, when he captured 17 percent of the vote in a 6th District Congressional race against Rod Grams and incumbent DFLer Gerry Sikorski. Grams won the race that year with 42 percent of the vote.

“I was responsible for Rod Grams,” said Barkley, laughing. “I’ll have to take that with me to my grave.” 

Barkley leading eclectic life since short term as senator
Barkley  was a senator himself for 60 days when he  was appointed to the office by Ventura following the death of Paul Wellstone. Coleman, who defeated Walter Mondale in the election, replaced Barkley on Jan. 3, 2003.

Since then, Barkley has continued to live an unusual life. In 2006, for example, he was the campaign manager for singer/humorist Kinky Friedman in his bid to become Texas governor. One of Friedman’s memorable slogans: “How Hard Could It Be?”

The race was going well, until September, said Barkley.

“There was a big debate with all of the candidates,” Barkley said. “Kinky froze. I couldn’t believe it. Here was a guy who had been on stages all of his life, but in the big moment …”

Friedman finished fourth in a five-person field.

Of late, Barkley, 57, has been driving a Metro Mobility bus.

“I do that four days a week and practice law about two minutes a week,” said Barkley. “I find that to be about the perfect balance.”

Barkley said two things would dissuade him from getting into this Senate race himself. He is looking at the possibility of a new job that intrigues him. If he gets that job, he wouldn’t run.

The other factor that would keep him out of the race is Ventura.

“I want him to run,” said Barkley. “This is such an opportunity.”

Barkley, who has stayed close to the Venturas, believes the former governor loves his current lifestyle, which consists of spending half the year in Mexico and half the year in Minnesota. But he also believes Ventura is very interested in running for the Senate and that he has the blessing of his spouse, Terry.

There is always the chance that Ventura merely is hyping his latest book, “Don’t Start the Revolution Without Me,” with this talk of running for the Senate. Ventura learned from the pro wrestling masters about the value of hype.

But Barkley doesn’t buy it. He believes that Ventura carefully is calculating whether he could win. (Getting clobbered would not be good for Ventura’s ego or any other future business ventures.)

Senator Ventura?

“He’d have a great time throwing bombs at that institution,” said Barkley. “It’s just what they need. He’d wake ’em up.”

But Barkley believes Ventura will keep all of Minnesota waiting until the filing deadline, July 15.

“If he’s going to run, he’ll file at 4 p.m. on the last day,” said Barkley. “Just think of it.” 

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Bill Siegel on 06/10/2008 - 12:25 pm.

    People may laugh at the idea of former Governor Ventura running for Senate, but they’re the same people that laughed before he was elected in ’98. They forget that he mobilized college students to vote in record numbers and at the last debate he absolutely destroyed Skip and Norm with his understanding of the issues that highlighted the bickering, pandering, platitudes of the major party candidates. Former Governor Ventura may not be the best politician but he certainly has the qualifications and brings a refreshing, non-partisan perspective that shouldn’t be so easily dismissed.

  2. Submitted by Jeff Strate on 06/10/2008 - 05:07 pm.

    This delightful story about Barkely and Ventura demonstrates that Doug Grow (and perhaps Minnesota) can still direct a rakish tip of the fedora to independent buckaroos in the political corral. Barkely may be the more interesting of the two. Ventura’s carnival strongman act was for a couple of years refreshing among the musty DFLers and Repubs in St. Paul but it was not scripted to nurture the Independence Party or draw more people into the political process — nor was there much enthusiasm for an encore. But Barkely, the perfect eight week senator, seems to be savvy, grounded and at ease in the saddle as he rides a trail with no signposts.

  3. Submitted by Gail O'Hare on 06/10/2008 - 02:55 pm.

    Ventura has no fresh ideas. On CNN the other night he was still chanting the NO TAXES refrain that got Minnesota into the mess Pawlenty has carried on. Rebates, cutting the MVET – before you know it, bridges start falling down. His “leadership” would rest solely on rants and petulance and saying no to any new ideas. Starting with his tenure, MN slid into our current status as a mediocre state. Take a look at the Minnesota Ventura lucked into and the Minnesota he left.
    We don’t need another obstructionist in Washington whose Big Plan will be what it was here: a Look-at-Me loudmouth. We need new ideas for the 21st Century and the old guard needs to be put out to pasture. Ventura’s been pasturing for 8 years and he can stay there.

  4. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 06/12/2008 - 10:37 am.

    There are only two reasons this story is playing out. One, Venturea sells books every time this is mentioned. Two, the media would just love how it would spice up the campaign and get it off boring old issues and on to something like whether the candidates wears briefs or boxers. If he runs, assume the worst from the media. This is more of a economic development issue – increasing book sales and securing the jobs of Minnesota political pundits.

  5. Submitted by John Olson on 06/14/2008 - 06:12 pm.

    For supposedly hating the media jackals so much, Jesse sure loves to lap it up whenever he gets a chance.

    One can only imagine the outcome if the late TIm Russert ever had been presented with a chance to fillet Ventura on Meet the Press.

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