Will he or won’t he? With the filing deadline Tuesday afternoon, we’ll soon know whether Jesse Ventura will enter the U.S. Senate race. He is supposed to announce his decision on a CNN interview with Larry King that airs at 8 tonight.
Dean Barkley, the man most responsible for creating the Independence Party in Minnesota and likely Ventura’s most trusted political adviser, keeps nudging his old friend to run. Last Thursday, for example, he faxed Ventura a copy of how many days the Senate is NOT actually in session. NOT counting weekends, senators have roughly 70 to 75 days off a year.
“I sent him the schedule and told him, ‘This is how much a Senator has to work. It’s not as tough as being governor,”’ Barkley said.
MinnPost: What would it take for Ventura to defeat Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and DFL challenger Al Franken?
Barkley: He’d have to run.
MP: Could he finance a campaign on such short notice? (In the governor’s race of 1998, when Ventura got 37 percent of the vote to defeat Coleman and DFLer Skip Humphrey, Ventura had the benefit of public financing. There is no public money in Senate races.)
DB: laughing: He won’t put his own money in the race. That’s a given.
MP: So where would the money come from?
DB: He’s one of the few people who could simply put up a website and he’d have people from across the country contributing.
MP: But this race may become the most expensive Senate race ever run with Franken and Coleman each spending $16 million. Can Ventura find that sort of money?
DB: He doesn’t need to. He’ll get so much free press that they could each spend $60 million and it wouldn’t matter. I think one of the hardest things we’d have to do is find enough time to handle all the requests for interviews he’d have.
MP: So how much would Ventura need to raise?
DB: “I’d say $1 million to $1.5 million. If we could give [Bill] Hillsman [who handled Ventura’s advertising campaign in 1998] a million bucks for the media campaign, that would do it.”
MP: Would he have the support of the Independence Party?
DB: If Mr. Williams [the IP’s endorsed candidate Stephen Williams] would decide to stay in the race, there’d have to be a primary. I went to the convention and urged them not to endorse, just in case Jesse would run. But they wanted to endorse.
MP: Would a primary be a problem?
DB: You wouldn’t think there would be a problem, but you never know what dastardly deeds the DFLers and the Republicans might pull. If they don’t have opponents in their primaries, they might vote in our primary.
MP: Would there be an effort by his opponents to keep Ventura out of debates?
DB: I don’t see how they can keep him out of the debates. He’s polling 25 percent. Can you imagine what would happen if they [Franken and Coleman] tried to keep him out of the debates? We’re still a major party. He’s polling great. I think what you’d see is them holding as few debates as possible because they know they can’t handle him. What are you going to do? Do you attack him? Who attacks him first? So many things to worry about.
MP: Many of the issues in the Senate race — such as the economy and health care — are very sophisticated. Does Ventura spend much time studying these issues?
DB: He’s no idiot. He knows what he’s doing. He’ll be just like he always is. He’ll be brutally honest and he’ll tell people what he thinks. If he doesn’t know about something, he’ll say he doesn’t know. People overlook things they disagree with him about because they know he’s being honest with them. People yearn for the truth, at least the truth as Jesse sees it. They also know he’ll put smart people around him, just like he did when he’s governor. He’s not afraid to listen to people.
MP: Is he a little more clear on Iraq than the other candidates?
DB, again laughing: I’d say so. He says if we could march our soldiers in, why can’t we turn around and march them out? Incredibly simple.
MP: Why can’t candidates from the two major parties be so honest in their opinions?
DB: They always end up bringing in the consultants from Washington and they end up looking just alike. Fortunately, we don’t have any Washington consultants.
MP: Ventura seems to have a special dislike of Coleman. What’s that about?
DB: It goes back to the State Fair [of 1998]. Coleman was condescending to him. They were at the fair and Coleman came up to him and said, ‘Oh Jesse, oh Jesse, you’re getting the big crowds here but you can’t win.’ Totally condescending.”
MP: Does his record as governor hurt him or help him?
DB: Helps him. All he has to do is say, ‘Remember those Jesse checks?’ Remember how we lowered the cost of license? Do you like the light rail line? [Ventura pushed hard for it.] He even tried to change the way we fund road and bridge construction. Had we done what he wanted, there would have been more money and, who knows, maybe the bridge wouldn’t have fallen down. But the Legislature voted down his plan.
MP: Does he bring baggage into this race?
DB: This would be so much easier than the last time, it’s not even funny. He knows he’ll have to talk to the local press again. He understands that … I really think the biggest problem would be finding time for all the media requests.
MP: What about the, ummm, unusual hairstyles he’s opted for of late? Would those have to change?
DB: He’s gotten rid of the facial hair … Actually, I sort of think he looks like Benjamin Franklin now.
MP: What do you envision if he gets into the race?
DB: I see him on a motorcycle in the [University of Minnesota] homecoming parade and the kids going wild. Kids love him because he’s not afraid to buck the system. And I have this idea for a t-shirt. On the front it says, “Two Parties’ Worst Enemy,” and there’s a picture of Jesse. On the back it says, “I’m back.”
Doug Grow, a former metro columnist for the Star Tribune, writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.