MN Gov. race
Source Andy English
Date 99/05/01/22:28

/* Written 7:48 AM Nov 6, 1998 by in igc:labr.all */
/* ---------- "MN Gov. race" ---------- */
Date: Fri, 6 Nov 1998 08:21:44 -0700 (MST)

An analysis of the Minnesota governor's race from Andy English, a union
activist and member of the Labor Party (a small third party mostly from
left-wing of the labor movement which has yet to become electoral).

---------- Forwarded message ----------

Date: Thu, 05 Nov 1998 20:07:17 -0800 (PST)
From: Andrew English

A question was asked on the Labor Party
list about the meaning of Tuesday's election
of Reform Party candidate Jesse "The Body"
Ventura as governor of Minnesota.
As a new resident of Minnesota, I'll try to
fill people in on what is going on here.

Ventura won the race with 37% of the vote.
The other two candidates were Republican Norm
Coleman and Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party
candidate Hubert H. Humphrey III (son of the
former vice-president). (The Democrats are called
DFL here because in 1944 the Farmer-Labor Party,
which had held the governorship during most
of the 1930's, merged with the Democrats).
Coleman got 34% of the vote and Humphrey got 28%.
The upset was a surprise. Earlier polls of "likely voters"
during the summer and fall had shown Humphrey
in the lead with Ventura getting around 15 percent of the vote.
In the last two weeks of the campaign, Ventura
began moving up, and Humphrey started slipping.

Ventura benefited from several factors.
First of all, he was already a well-known
celebrity prior to announcing his candidacy
and had high name recognition. He was famous
as a professional wrestler (his birth name is
James Janos, but he legally changed it to what
he thought was a better stage name when he
became a wrestler). He later appeared in
action movies like "Predator". A few years
ago he was elected mayor of a Brooklyn Park,
a Minneapolis suburb. Then up until three
months ago, he had a radio talk show.
(He had to take a leave from the show
when the campaign season got started).

Ventura has cultivated the image of
being a regular working stiff (despite
being a millionaire from his entertainment career).
He was a Navy SEAL. He is a football coach.
He still has a pro wrestler's physique and
shaves his head. He has a gravelly voice
and a lot of charisma. He ran as someone
who was not a career politician, as someone
who would say whatever he thought and
let the chips fall wherever.
He has a very "populist" style.
Ventura's upset is seen here as a poke
in the eye to the establishment --
that someone who is not born rich
or into a political family, and who doesn't
talk like a lawyer or career politician, can
be elected governor. He bragged that he
was the only candidate who was a card-
carrying union member -- in the Screen Actors Guild.

Ventura political positions can be chacterized
as "fiscally conservative, socially liberal".
He calls himself a "centrist." He's pro-choice on
abortion and support domestic partnership
benefits for gay couples. He's also called for
considering the legalization of drugs and
prostitution. He attacks "big government",
and calls for unspecified tax cuts to refund
all the budget surplus to the taxpayers.
(Since Tuesday's election, however, he's
admitted the states $1 billion annual budget
surplus has already been spent by the last
legislature in the form of new programs
and already enacted tax cuts, and says his
"refund" statement applies only to future
surpluses). His other big issue was reducing
class sizes, which he claims can be done
without providing any additional money
to schools -- he says school districts of
mis-spend state aid ( in Minnesota,
the state redistributes a large amount of funds
to compensate
for imbalances in taxable property in different
school districts) targeted for class size reduction
on other things like teacher salaries.
Other positions he's taken include opposing
state subsidies for day care and increasing
state aid to college students. He was very
popular among college students and
young people generally despite the latter position.

Minnesota provides public financing
of candidates who get more than 5%
of the vote. Because Ventura was getting
much more than that in the polls, he was
able to get a bank to loan him $300,000
so he could run TV ads in the last two
weeks of the campaign. He hired the same
guy who did Senator Paul Wellstone's
ads in 1990, who known for doing
humorous and effective political ads.
People probably heard about the
one showing two kids playing
with the "Jesse Ventura action figure"
who does battle
with the "special interest" man.

He did another one in which he is wearing
nothing but a pair of shorts sitting in the
position of Rodan's "The Thinker"
while the narrator talks about Jesse "The Mind"
Ventura's positions, and then it ends with
a close up of his face where he winks at the camera.
He's now calling himself "The Mind" because he
"making a living now with his mind rather than his body."
Prior to running the TV ads, Ventura relied on
some radio ads and free media stemming
from his celebrity status as "The Body."

None of the other Reform party candidates
drew more than 15 percent of the vote.
The Green party candidate got just under 7,000 votes
and the SWP candidate got about 2,000.
Ventura got 770,000, Coleman got 715,000,
and Humphrey got 586,000.

Also in Tuesday's election, the Minnesota House
shifted from slightly DFL to slightly Republican
majorities. The House here has been DFL for
about 20 years, except for one 2 year period
in the mid-80s. The Senate, which isn't up for
re-election until 2000, is heavily DFL.
So now we have a Republican House, a
Democratic Senate, and a Reform party

Ventura's support was concentrated among
young blue collar new voters, especially males.
He won among all age groups under 60
(Humphrey won the over-60 group)
and among all income groups under $100,000 year
(Coleman won the rich). Ventura won 50% of the
self-identified liberals, and 1/3 of the conservatives
and moderates. He drew votes from both
Republicans and Democrats and independent voters.

As I said, Humphey was leading up until the
last few weeks of the campaign. The polls
measured the likely voters which underestimated
the new voters who turned out for Ventura.
Minnesota laws allow people to register at the polls,
and many people who had never voted did.

Ventura had no get-out-the-vote apparatus, but the
major parties and the unions all mounted big GOTV
drives, which probably turned out lots of
people who voted for Ventura at the top of the
ticket and who voted their party affiliation
or union-endorsed candidates for the lower end
of the ballot.

The conventional wisdom was that Ventura
would draw votes away from Coleman --
Humphrey insisted that Ventura be included
in all of the debates. But Ventura drew support
from both major party candidates. Neither of
the major party campaigns treated him as a
serious threat, nor did any of the political pundits.

Humphrey was and is well-liked in this state
(he has been attorney general for 16 years and
recently beat the tobacco companies in a big
lawsuit), and of course has a famous name.
But no one was excited about him and
he was a boring speaker. In the primaries,
most of the unions supported another DFL
candidate, but solidified behind Humphrey
when he was nominated.

The feeling in the labor community
was more anti-Coleman
than pro-Humphrey. Coleman is
mayor of St. Paul and has been a
notorious basher of the city workers
unions, trying to slash retiree health
benefits. Coleman used to be a
protege of Humphrey and worked
in the attorney general's office. He was
elected mayor as a DFLer, but then
switched to Republican. He's always
been anti-choice, and has increasingly
courted the religious right, taking anti-gay
positions. As mayor of St. Paul he's
started pushing for privatization and
also pushed through hundreds of
millions of dollars in new city debt
to build a new hockey stadium and
subsidize other corporate welfare
projects (although some of the building
trades have supported Coleman because
of the construction that resulted from
his deals). He also opposed the city's
living wage law. His main campaign
message was to paint Humphrey as a
"tax and spend" liberal. Coleman is
now close to the "Center for the
American Experiment" which is a local
right-wing think tank similar to the Heritage
Foundation. Because of his party switch,
Coleman is widely seen as an opportunist.
But he is good-looking, polished, and
young and the Republicans grabbed on
to him as their ticket to keep control of
the governorship.

To sum up, Ventura's election stems from several factors:

1) a celebrity candidate capable of
sustaining a working class populist image;

2) he struck a chord among young
disgruntled blue-collar voters, but also appealed
to a wide range of other voters;

3) the other candidates agreed to include him
the debates, further legitimizing his candidacy;

4) he was able to get financing based on
the expectation that he would get at least
5 percent of the vote and be eligible for
public campaign funds after the balloting,
which allowed him to get on TV in the crucial
final two weeks.

However, Ventura's "populism" is more style than
substance. He is now saying that he will retain
many agency heads from the outgoing
Republican administration of Governor Arne
Carlson. Its expected that his cabinet
will be a mixture of Democrats and Republicans.

-Andy English
Twin Cities, Minn.

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