Nov 3, 2023 - Politics

Jesse Ventura "shocked the world" 25 years ago

Jesse Ventura celebrated his election win on Nov. 3, 1998 at Canterbury Park. Photo: Craig LassigAFP via Getty Images

Jesse Ventura's astounding ascension from the wrestling ring to the radio waves to Minnesota governorship made national news 25 years ago Friday.

What happened: The Reform Party candidate announced that his campaign "shocked the world" after scoring an upset in the 1998 gubernatorial race over Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Skip Humphrey.

  • "The Body" garnered 37% of the vote to Coleman's 34% and Humphrey's 28%.
  • Ventura's victory came despite being vastly outspent by his opponents, the Washington Post reported.

Flashback: Former WCCO-TV political reporter Pat Kessler covered the election and remembers how Ventura started polling in the double digits during the summer, reaching 21% by mid-October and then racing to close the gap from there.

  • Ventura used taxpayer funding to run "brilliant" TV commercials by influential Twin Cities political consultant Bill Hillsman, Kessler told Axios. The spot in which kids played with a Jesse action figure was a talker.
  • Voters saw Coleman and Humphrey as "two different shades of beige, while Jesse Ventura was out there in brilliant technicolor," Kessler said.
  • On election day, Kessler saw long lines at the polls in the north metro as blue collar workers punched out in the afternoon. That's where Ventura had his strongest support.
  • "It happens rarely that a candidate can close the gap, but he did in those last 10 days of the campaign."

Between the lines: Former President Donald Trump visited Ventura in 2000 to learn how he did it, as Kessler reported. One Ventura staffer told Kessler in 2016 that Trump was using Ventura's 1998 playbook during his presidential campaign.

Flash forward: Ventura's rocky end to his single term kept him away from Minnesota politics for a while, but he resurfaced in the last Legislative session as a leading supporter of legal marijuana.


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