A New Hurdle for Al Franken: Jesse Ventura?

Jessepainting Updated

Is a celebrity candidate about to trump another celebrity candidate’s political aspirations?

That may be in the works in Minnesota, when satirist Al Franken’s campaign to unseat incumbent Norm Coleman for a U.S. Senate seat could be shaken by the entrance of former Gov. Jesse Ventura in the race.

Ventura has until Tuesday to decide whether to enter the contest running as a member of the Independence Party, and he’s encouraged by recent polls showing him drawing one-quarter of the votes in a three-person race.

He tells Variety, “When I ran for governor [in 1998], the weekend before the election, I was only polling 27. so I am only three points off what I was when I won. And we haven’t even had a debate yet.”

If he gets in, Ventura would capitalize on voter anger and protest, perhaps peeling away support from Franken, who is trailing Coleman in polls by anywhere from three to 10 percentage points.

“If Jesse Ventura jumps in the race, I think Al Franken’s already challenged candidacy is on ice,” says University of Minnesota political science professor Lawrence Jacobs. “Maybe the ice thaws, but Franken’s prospects depend on voters who are angry or disaffected by the incumbent and are choosing to vote for him. If Ventura jumps in the race, he is going to drain away some of the anti-incumbent vote that Franken would get.”

A spokesman for Franken did not return calls for comment.

As an alternative to a gubernatorial bid, Ventura says he is mulling some “irons in the fire” in Los Angeles. But he’s been an emerging presence in the media, as he has just come off tour of his most recent book, “Don’t Start the Revolution Without Me!,” and certainly the attention doesn’t hurt.

“It is a complete change of life for me, but I am not sure I want to make that change, make that commitment,” Ventura says. “But if I do, rest assured, I will go out there with revolution on my mind, like my book says. I will be the biggest pain in the ass they have ever had on the Senate floor. That is my goal, because I don’t like the system, and I don’t like the fact that they have put us $9 trillion in debt.”

In an interview on Tuesday for an upcoming print column, he sounded like a candidate, ready to needle his opponents at every turn. He mapped out a renegade campaign strategy in which he would raise money on the Internet yet not spend more than $1 million for his bid. “I will not spend more than I earn,” he says, “and that gives me I think a million dollar cap, because the salary for a senator is 170,000.”

Instead, he would depend in part on a bang up performance in a debate with Coleman and Franken, confronting them on what he characterizes as a corrupt two-party system and their drawbacks as politicians.

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