Bachmann and Ventura have a following as eclectic politicians

by T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol reporter –

Their words have broken through like those of few Minnesota politicians, and if being rendered into an action figure suggests a pinnacle, then former Gov. Jesse Ventura and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann stand on the summit.

Indeed, the similarities between Bachmann and Ventura are ones not only of style but place, it might be argued.

Although slightly altered since the 1998 gubernatorial election in which Reform Party candidate Ventura shocked the world, the 6th Congressional District, Bachmann’s turf, embraced the former professional wrestler and Brooklyn Park mayor.

Ventura won every county in the current 6th District.

He utterly trounced Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Skip Humphrey in Anoka, Chisago, Isanti, and Sherburne counties, winning more votes than his opponents’ vote totals combined.

Former Ventura Spokesman John Wodele views the 6th District as receptive to politicians like Ventura and Bachmann. That’s because the residents themselves, in speaking what they believe to be true, don’t worry about giving offense.

“‘Well, that’s just too bad,’” is how Wodele summed up the plucky attitude of those leaning back on their pickups speaking their minds.

Former state representative and former Republican 6th District congressional candidate Phil Krinkie, now Taxpayers League of Minnesota president, said Minnesotans in general, tracing back to Paul Wellstone, Eugene McCarthy and beyond, have shown a fondness for eclectic politicians.

As for the 6th District, Krinkie senses in counties like Stearns that voters demand plain speaking.

“‘Don’t try to finesse me, don’t try to B.S. me,’” Krinkie said.

There’s no question that Ventura and Bachmann have similar styles, Wodele said.

“They have a deep penchant for stating the truth as they see it,” he said.

And they don’t back down.

Wodele points to the recent controversy concerning Bachmann’s allegations of Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of the U.S. government as an example of the stick-to-itiveness against fierce criticism that exemplifies both Bachmann and Ventura.

“They’re both very smart,” said Wodele, who does not endorse Bachmann’s views. “She (Bachmann) has staying power — so does Jesse Ventura,” said Wodele.

Krinkie uses words like “bold” and “unabashed” in describing the political chemistry of Bachmann and Ventura.

“If I’d go out there and say things like these, I’d be fried,” Krinkie said with a grin. “It’s kind of a gift,” he said of the allegiance Bachmann and Ventura generate among some voters.

While a number of Republican lawmakers, including Republican 2nd District Congressman John Kline, have criticized Bachmann for drawing suspicion onto a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, University of Minnesota Journalism and Mass Communication Professor Heather LaMarre doesn’t find the rebukes compelling.

“No,” she said.

“It’s sort of every candidate for themselves,” she said of perceived election year maneuvering.

But LaMarre views the outspokenness of Bachmann and Ventura as risky business. Yes, it can stir the political base. “But it can equally stir the opposition,” LaMarre said.

It can boomerang, she said. Still, the payback can be substantial.

The Bachmann campaign raised more than $1 million over a 25-day period in July, during the Muslim Brotherhood controversy.

But Ventura, at least in terms of approval ratings, took a lump during a flare-up in the autumn of 1999 over a Playboy magazine interview in which he styled organized religion a sham and crutch for the weak-minded.

According to polling at the time, Ventura’s robust approval rating dropped by double digits.

Legislative leaders, such as former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe and others, took some of the first hard swings at the governor since Ventura had been sworn into office before world media and the attentive gaze of future California governor, Ventura pal, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Jesse Ventura

Ventura was philosophical. “I speak my mind,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press in early October of that year. “If it offends some people, well, there’s not much I can do about that. But I’m going to be honest,” Ventura said,

Larry Jacobs, a University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute Political Science professor, explained that Ventura and Bachmann break away from conventional thinking but in different directions. And with different results.

Bachmann channels ultra-conservative unorthodox views to the delight of her supporters, but alienates political independents, he explained.

As governor, Ventura was not ideological, Jacobs said in an e-mail, but liked to stick it to the media and orthodox thinking.

This won support among independents and some Democrats.

“Both jumped the picket fence of political orthodoxy, but Bachmann could not win (an election) statewide,” Jacobs wrote. “Ventura did, and may have won re-election,” he said.

Sixth District Independence Party Chairman Steve Laitinen doesn’t see similarities between Bachmann and Ventura. “In my opinion, not really,” said Laitinen, a longtime third-party activist. “She’s (Bachmann) definitely a personality. You either love her, or hate her,” he said.

Michele Bachmann

“I just think he’s (Ventura) got character,” said Laitinen. He views Bachmann as more attuned to harvesting campaign dollars.