For Minnesotans, 'The Body' politic Election: The former pro wrestler is on his way to the governor's mansion. Some are elated, but others wonder, 'So, do we all move to Wisconsin, or what?'

Election 1998 : Nation

November 05, 1998|By Kirsten Scharnberg | Kirsten Scharnberg,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS -- People are mortified, thrilled, angry and a more than a little shocked that the man who will soon be sleeping in their stately governor's mansion is a gruff-talking, mustachioed, bald former wrestler who campaigned with curse words and camouflage.

One by one, flat vowels unmistakable, Minnesotans called talk-radio shows yesterday to dissect the surreal election where their three candidate choices had been a guy named Norm, a longtime hometown hero and a monster of a man who proudly wears feather boas and calls himself "The Body."

"My name's Phil," one caller said dejectedly. "And my phone started ringing at 6: 30 this morning. It was my brother in Florida saying, 'What in the hell have you people done?' "

In the light of day, long after the vote tallies had been confirmed, no one could believe that Jesse "The Body" Ventura really was going to be the next governor of this state of 10,000 lakes.

"We're a laughingstock," Phil went on. "An absolute laughingstock."

The radio host interrupted:

"I guess we can't make fun of those Packers fans, anymore. You know, saying they're a bunch of paint-sniffing cheeseheads. Cause, boy, do they have one on us now."

The shock just isn't wearing off.

Who would have guessed that Ventura -- once a dirty-fighting villain on the pro wrestling circuit who calls Hulk Hogan a friend and has starred in a movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger -- would have defeated two of the state's political darlings, Hubert Humphrey III and Norm Coleman?

"It's the kind of remarkable political event that only happens once in a lifetime," said Jim Ragsdale, a St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter who wrote the elections result article that ran yesterday under the front-page headline "Ventura body slams political favorites."

Minnesotans are still walking around in a daze, talking about the election, about "The Body," about little else.

A woman buying a newspaper at a downtown pharmacy groaned as she read the boldface headline "Ventura Wins." The cashier shrugged and asked, "Well, who'd you vote for?"

"Good god, not him," said lifetime Minneapolis resident Libby Swanson. "I couldn't be more embarrassed."

"The Body" was good for a few laughs, Swanson said, but no one -- probably not even Ventura -- thought he had a sunbather's chance in Minnesota of winning.

"I wonder if he woke up this morning scratching his bald little head and saying, 'What in the hell am I supposed to do now? I'm really supposed to govern?' "

Swanson's suspicions might not have been that far from the truth. While making public appearances yesterday, the 47-year-old Ventura toted around a primer on Minnesota state government, telling reporters, "I feel like Rodney Dangerfield. I need to take my butt back to school."

By the time Swanson and a small gathering of amateur political analysts left with their newspapers, Marian Donley was feeling more like a bartender or a counselor than a part-time cashier.

"Everyone has their opinion," said Donley, 67, after a long day of selling newspapers destined to become collector's items. "And as soon as they see the headlines, they express it."

In an election year where Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich did little but disgust voters, Jesse "The Body" Ventura actually made the people of Minnesota think about something else.

Sure, they laughed at the idea at first. They still do. But hey, they'll tell you, at least Minnesota made a point that the rest of the country was too chicken to make.

"We stood up and said we are so sick of Democrats and Republicans and the partisan crap that has been going on since the beginning of time," said Steve Smith, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, whose political science professor opened yesterday's lecture by asking, "So do we all move to Wisconsin, or what?"

Sure, the post-election frenzy was staggering, but it couldn't compare to the carnival of Ventura's campaign. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound former Navy Seal would scream into news cameras -- his fists shaking, his gravelly voice rising -- just as he did in his wrestling days.

He showed up at a formal luncheon wearing camouflage. He came to a televised debate in a golf shirt and running shoes, saying he had to leave early to coach a high school football game. He asked the owner of the Minnesota Vikings whether he could "get out of the nosebleed section" if he won.

One of his campaign ads showed a Ventura action figure fighting off Evil Special Interest Man, while another featured the buff former athlete wearing only gym shorts and posed as Auguste Rodin's "The Thinker."

At his victory party, at a local racetrack, Ventura's campaign staff and supporters wore jeans and sweat shirts and guzzled beer during his acceptance speech.

"He's notorious," said Krissy Sanken, a 25-year-old AT&T employee who voted for Ventura. "But I can't believe that the rest of the world could be this interested in Minnesota politics. What's the big deal?"

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