'The Body's' lesson for other pols

November 08, 1998

The Philadelphia Inquirer said in an editorial Friday:

BEHIND every major party candidate, it seems, is a campaign manager whispering: "Stay on message. Don't shoot from the hip. Ignore ticklish debate questions. Don't show undue emotion even if angered."

Voters understandably tire of candidates who too often sound too much alike. It's a handicap that didn't hold down Jesse "The Body" Ventura, the former wrestler and talk-show host, who upended two major-party candidates to become governor-elect of Minnesota on Tuesday.

What's missing from the national laughter fueled by late-night talk show hosts is the reality that Mr. Ventura apparently sounded a lot more believable than his better-funded, experienced opponents.

Instead of blubbering like a fringe crackpot, he talked of being a fiscal conservative who opposed government interference with decisions on abortion and the sex of marriage partners. He refused special-interest campaign money and opposed school vouchers, and he mentioned -- without endorsing -- legalizing prostitution and drugs.

Then he beat St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, the Republican, who got 34 percent of the vote, and political scion and state attorney general Hubert H. Humphrey III, who mustered only 28 percent. Mr. Ventura became the Reform Party's first statewide victor with 37 percent of the vote.

Sure, Minnesotans have an inclination toward voting for the alternative, and Mr. Ventura didn't lack name recognition. But another major factor here is that state's very democratic public financing system that offers financial help to a candidate whose party got 10 percent of the vote in the last election. To qualify, the candidate must raise a mere $35,000 from about 700 donors. Then, all gubernatorial candidates face spending limits of $1.9 million in the general election.

So when all the dust settles on this shocklingly refreshing upset, public officials might want to focus on talking straight, answering hard questions and watching out for surprise body slams.

Pub Date: 11/08/98

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