Nation’s laughter at Ventura misses point

Tuesday night witnessed one of the most stunning upsets in Minnesota election history as Jesse Ventura overcame the odds to become our next governor. As the nation laughs, it fails to recognize the valuable lessons wrapped up in his victory.
The election of Ventura was the result of several changes that took place in the electorate. Whether his candidacy can start a new trend of third party competitiveness is unsure. For now though Minnesotans are going to have to deal with the fact that this man is going to be our governor at least until 2002.
Voter turnout was extremely heavy, and more than exceeded expectations before the election. The final numbers are still being tabulated, but clearly more people showed up at the polls than in years past, many for the first time. Of these newly registered voters Ventura was the clear winner, and his campaign can take credit for having energized a previously untapped group of the population, 18 to 24 year olds, the age of most University students.
The two traditional parties, Democrats in particular, seem mystified that students turned out for Ventura so strongly. After all, he was on the record with an opinion on financial aid that did not seem inspiring.
What the traditional parties failed to realize was that these voters were not turning on a single issue. Ventura supporters voted for their candidate because he came across as one of them, living his own version of the American dream. They also perceived him as honest, as unshackled by special interests and as someone who is not afraid of offending the establishment.
Yet, the tactics employed by Ventura can stand some criticism. At times the campaign seemed to ignore the issues in favor of focusing on his personality. One advertisement listed 25 comparisons between Norm Coleman and Ventura including height, weight and smoking preferences.
An election should be about issues: education, taxes or even the problems with career politicians. By running such advertisements, the Ventura camp left itself open to attacks that it was merely a sideshow. It is certainly acceptable to use humor, but this levity should not come at the expense of the issues.
Ventura’s campaign was successful in large part due to his undeniable charisma, a factor that should not be dismissed as unimportant. In 1998 most political messages are disseminated on television, and the reality is candidates must be able to sell their position. After election day, a candidate unable to connect with the people will have difficulty getting legislation passed. Ventura has a powerful personality, that will serve both himself and Minnesota well now that he has been elected.
Ventura has won the governorship because of his ability to motivate Minnesotans, who, in the past, have seen no reason to participate in politics. He can particularly thank students for placing him into an office that was, until recently, viewed as unattainable. It remains to be seen whether he will be a successful governor, but just by being elected he has done something new and exciting for our politics.
Ventura has guaranteed himself a place in Minnesota history. His actions in the next four years will determine how favorably history judges him.