Copyright (c) 1998, Duluth News-Tribune

Wednesday, November 4, 1998
By Daniel Bernard/News-Tribune staff writer 


   What first sounded like a joke became reality Tuesday:
   Minnesotans just elected a former professional wrestler as their next governor.
   Proud outsider Jesse Ventura astounded the political establishment in Minnesota and nationwide by besting strong DFL and Republican candidates in the tightest three-way gubernatorial race in a century.
   ''We shocked the world!'' Ventura declared in a victory party at Canterbury Downs in Shakopee, Minn., comparing his upset win to Muhammad Ali's 1964 boxing defeat of Sonny Liston.
   ''Minnesota leads the way in setting the way for the rest of the country,'' Ventura said. ''Hopefully, the Democrats and the Republicans will take notice. They will stop their partisan politics and start doing what's right for the people.''
   Ventura, 47, blind-sided DFL Attorney General Hubert ''Skip'' Humphrey III and Republican St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman. Initially, neither appeared to lend credence to the threat posed by the broadcaster and sometime movie actor who served a single term as a Minneapolis suburban mayor.
   After midnight, media outlets declared Ventura a winner.
   Incomplete returns showed Humphrey the top vote-getter in St. Louis, Carlton, Itasca and Lake counties. Coleman, who led in Koochiching County, was running about even with Humphrey in Cook County. Ventura appeared to have a plurality of votes in Pine and Aitkin counties.
   This morning Minnesotans awake to the realization that they're not too sure what Ventura will do once he assumes office next year.
   Ventura acknowledged his philosophy matched that of the anti-government Libertarian Party, tending to be liberal on social issues, conservative on taxation. He said he ran under the banner of the Minnesota Reform Party, which was inspired by Ross Perot's 1992 presidential race, because past performance gave the party an automatic slot on the ballot.
   But he kept his platform vague, saying he would rely on expert appointees, and preferring to discuss principles. Ventura acknowledged that in his victory speech.
   ''During this campaign I didn't make a lot of promises because I'm a person who believes that he doesn't make promises that he can't keep,'' Ventura said to a delirious crowd. ''But I'm going to make you one simple promise tonight: I promise you I will do the best job that I can do.
   ''I will probably make mistakes. But remember, we all make 'em, and if they're mistakes from the heart, then you don't have apologize for them.''
   Voters didn't care. They cued on his themes that the major-party candidates had to be beholden to ''special interests.'' They were delighted by his unorthodox ads and blunt talk. That triggered a groundswell of support in the last weeks of the campaign, as polls that showed him gaining encouraged voters that he had a chance of beating the traditional politicians.
   Typical was Jean Krawiecki, a 30-year-old Duluth homemaker raised as a Democrat. Disgusted with the formerly Democrat-controlled Congress, she gravitated to Republicans. She discovered her disgust applied to both parties.
   ''I'm sick of false promises,'' Krawiecki said as her sons, ages 2 and 4, cavorted in the polling place at First United Methodist Church. ''Jesse Ventura is not willing to make promises. I don't think any candidate's ever done that.''
   As for the risk of putting a relative novice into the state's highest office, Krawiecki shrugged it off.
   ''I don't think one guy can really mess things up that bad,'' Krawiecki said. ''He couldn't do anything worse than what's been going on.''
   Others said Ventura was too untested.
   ''He is a rookie and has no backing,'' said Jeffrey Sheperd, a 37-year-old Central Hillside resident.
   Ventura is the first third-party candidate elected governor since Elmer Benson of the Farmer-Labor Party in 1936.
   The last time a three-way contest was so close was in 1890 when William R. Merriam, a Republican, received 36.6 percent of the vote, Thomas Wilson, a Democrat, 35.6 percent and Sidney M. Owen of the Alliance Party, 29.7 percent. Merriam's finish ranks as the lowest winning percentage in state history. Owen's is the highest third-place finish.
   Early on, the contest between Humphrey and Coleman was expected to be the main attraction.
   Coleman, the 49-year-old former hippie college campus leader, was a onetime DFLer and top Humphrey aide. He ran for mayor in 1993 when Humphrey supported him over the DFL-endorsed candidate. In late 1996, Coleman switched parties and was re-elected mayor in 1997.
   Humphrey, 56, went into the race off the biggest win of his career. His lawsuit against the tobacco industry brought the state $6.1 billion and gave him the reputation of a fighter.
   Though Ventura portrayed himself as an average guy, he earned a significant fortune through stints in the World Wrestling Federation and as a bit player in action movies. The south Minneapolis native wrestled as the comic-villainous Jesse ''The Body'' Ventura from 1975 to 1986. He served as a commentator for WWF matches from 1985 to 1993 and NFL games from 1989 to 1991.
   Ventura said in a recent interview he does not know his personal net worth. But when he was elected mayor of working-class Brooklyn Park in 1990, he owned a five-bedroom, two-garage spread on an upscale side of town with an in-ground swimming pool and a stairway leading to a quiet stretch of the Mississippi River.
   After Ventura announced he wouldn't seek re-election in 1994, he bought a 32-acre farm a few miles west in Maple Grove for about $500,000.
   Humphrey and running mate Roger Moe visited Duluth four times in the five days before Election Day, hammering Ventura for advocating the phaseout of state child-care subsidies and for opposing the state prevailing wage -- the latter even though Ventura had disavowed a past statement about the wage law.