Jesse Ventura may be out of the picture, but the Independence Party still could be a factor in the U.S. Senate race in Minnesota.
Dean Barkley, who was appointed by Gov. Ventura to fill out Paul Wellstone’s term in the Senate after Wellstone died in a plane crash in 2002, told MinnPost Monday night that he will file Tuesday to run for Senate in the Independence Party primary.
“I’m not Jesse, but I have the same passion,” said Barkley, who has been involved in several forms of the Independence Party movement since 1992, when he ran against Republican Rod Grams and incumbent DFLer Gerry Sikorski in the 6th Congressional District race. Grams won that race, but Barkley stunned all by finishing with 16 percent of the vote. Then, in the 1994 race for U.S. Senate, Barkley received 5 percent of the statewide vote in a losing effort to Grams — a level, though, that gave the Independence Party, then known as the Reform Party, major party status in the state.
Barkley may not be alone in getting into the race against the party’s endorsed candidate, little-known Stephen Williams. Former Independence Party Chairman Jack Uldrich also is contemplating running in the September primary. Uldrich told MinnPost Monday night that he would make up his mind before the close of filing at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Barkley longtime Ventura ally
Barkley, of course, has been the man behind Ventura from the beginning of his improbable campaign for governor in 1998.
He, along with other key elders in the party — former Senate candidates Jim Moore and Jim Gibson and former party chairman Jack Uldrich, as well as ad man Bill Hillsman — all were urging Ventura to run for Senate this year. Moore, Gibson, Hillsman and Barkley met with Ventura for four hours Saturday, going over the pros and cons of running.
“We all told him we’d be there for him, and we all thought he had a chance of winning,” said Barkley.
Monday morning, Barkley and the others learned that Ventura had decided not to run.
Ventura told Larry King on CNN Monday night that “unless God comes and speaks to me, like he did to the president,” he would not file for the Senate race. Ventura, who was making light of President Bush, was quick to add that God hasn’t spoken to him in his 57 years.
With Ventura out, the Independence Party elders were concerned that the party would not have a strong candidate in this year’s Senate race. This spring, a sparse turnout of party members did endorse Williams, who has a farm near Austin.
“He’s a very good man and a very good speaker,” said Barkley. “I have nothing but good things to say about him.”
But Barkley and other former party leaders fear that Williams does not have the experience necessary to put together a strong statewide race.
Barkley certainly can put together an impressive campaign team. He said that former DFL Congressman Tim Penny has agreed to serve on his finance committee and that Hillsman will work on an advertising campaign. Ventura will campaign on his behalf. He also said that he has received many promises of financial support.
“Now we’ll see if I can find those people,” said Barkley, laughing.
Only a few weeks ago, Barkley had accepted a job as the CEO of a metro bus company for which he’d been a driver. In accepting the job, Barkley said he no longer could consider running for the Senate.
“But it didn’t work out,” said Barkley of the executive position. With that job behind him and Ventura out, the man who in recent years has done everything from run political campaigns to work in a governor’s administration to run a car wash and drive a bus was suddenly in a position to run for Senate.
Barkley stepped aside when Ventura entered picture
He said long before Ventura had showed interest in running in this year’s Senate race, he’d started putting together a campaign for himself. Only when Ventura showed interest did Barkley step aside.
Many have speculated that Ventura was just looking for attention for himself and a book he recently wrote in saying he was interested in running this year. But those close to him say he was very close to getting in the race.
Ventura, of course, always has made headlines before by by hinting he was going to run for officies ranging up to president. But his decision to step back on national television hours before the filing deadline almost surely means the end of the Ventura political story in Minnesota.
“I think if he would try again,” said Uldrich, “people would say, ‘Oh no, you’ve had your opportunities, it’s time to move on.”
After learning what Ventura would tell King and the television office, Uldrich and Barkley met for coffee on Monday morning to discuss the fate of the Independence Party. It turned out they both were interested in running. Barkley and Uldrich spoke again Monday night, Barkley telling Uldrich that he was definitely getting in the race. Uldrich, who is at least as deeply committed to the Independence cause as Barkley, told Barkley he, too, might enter the primary race.
Williams, the endorsed candidate, had made it clear he was staying in the race even if Ventura entered.
A SurveyUSA poll taken over the weekend for KSTP-TV and released just an hour before Ventura announced his decision had found that in a three-way race, Coleman led with 43 percent followed by Franken at 27 and Ventura at 26. Ventura mentioned the poll on the King show, suggesting it was a pitiful showing for the DFL.
In June, SUSA actually ran a poll on a Coleman-Franken-Barkley matchup and found Coleman with 48 percent, Franken, 37, and Barkley, 8. (Based on those numbers, it would be hard to say whether Barkley was taking more votes from Coleman or Franken. In that same poll, when voters were offered only Coleman and Franken as choices, Coleman led 52-40. So Franken was a statistically insignificant 1 percentage point closer to Coleman with Barkley in the race.)
It is Franken’s problems with his past “satire” and sliding in the polls that inspired St. Paul attorney Priscilla Lord Faris to announce Monday that she is going to run against Franken in the DFL primary.
“I look at this as my last chance to grab the ring,” said Barkley, who is 57. “I truly believe that this country needs a change of direction. If you really think either Coleman or Franken can help create that change, then, vote for them. If not, I want people to see there is a clear option.”
Eric Black contributed to this article.
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.