The night Jesse Ventura ‘shocked the world’

Gov. Jesse Ventura (I-Minn.) on election night 1998. (KARE 11 screenshot)

Gov. Jesse Ventura (I-Minn.) on election night 1998. (KARE 11 screenshot)

Nate Silver’s popular polling aggregator and statistical analysis website, now housed with ESPN, is doing a series of short documentaries about situations where polling shaped the news. The one posted this week features the 1998 election of Gov. Jesse Ventura (I-Minn.), one of the most compelling political stories in state history.

Well worth a watch:

This film brought back a lot of memories. The 1998 election was my first as a voter. I had been quite involved in politics during my high school years. Even though I had spent my summer working for a DFL candidate for governor, when I left for college in the fall I sent in for my absentee ballot and joined most of my young Minnesota peers in voting for Jesse Ventura.

By the time Election Day rolled around I was in Iowa working for an AM news station. We were down at the Dubuque County Courthouse doing a live remote. About a minute before we were to go on for an update, NBC called it for Ventura in Minnesota. A small gathering of Dubuque partisans let out a confused groan, while I belted out an expression of shock that turned into unexplainable celebration.

It happened. It really happened.

My news director had to calm me and the crowd down, which she did just in time for the report on that year’s city council results which are long since forgotten to time.

People liked to make fun of Jesse and the fact that Minnesota elected him. They still do. I’m not part of that crowd. I was endlessly frustrated with the way Ventura squandered the chance to create lasting, meaningful change to Minnesota politics, especially his fixation on his private career while in office. But if you check the tape, he did exactly what he said he would.

Ventura also showed how the right combination of traits can disrupt traditional politics. He had recognition (everyone knew his name), authenticity (he was incapable of acting any other way than as himself) and surprise (sure, he was a pro wrestler but he had been a popular mayor and would occasionally make cogent points when least expected). His feat hasn’t been repeated because no candidate has had those three qualities in the right amount in the right election.

My wife and I were talking about the drudgery we would all face if next year’s presidential race was between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. Once again, two well known candidates with high negatives whose opponents would try to tie each of them to the same unresolved problems … not unlike Norm Coleman and Hubert H. “Skip” Humphrey III in 1998.

Is this another year where the world could be shocked? This time on the national level?

Probably not. Then again, I remember saying that on the morning of Election Day 1998.

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