Body Language Governor-elect Jesse Ventura's gigs on sports radio helped give him a stunning hold on voters

November 16, 1998

If you ever heard Jesse (the Body) Ventura grant a professional
wrestling interview to his fellow Minnesotan, WWF emcee "Mean"
Gene Okerlund, then you knew this was a man who could artfully
articulate his visions--however unspeakable those visions might
be. Ventura once happened upon Uncle Elmer, the 500-pound
hillbilly grappler, making out with Mrs. Elmer. Said a shaken
Body, "They looked like two fish going after the same piece of
corn."

Last week Minnesota voters asked Ventura to fireman-carry their
hopes into the 21st century, and the gob-smacked governor-elect
was left to wonder how, exactly, he had soundly defeated two
veteran politicians. "Maybe my years in pro wrestling, doing all
those interviews, helped me to debate and be quick on my feet,"
ventured Ventura, who had listed on his financial disclosure form
his most recent occupation: call-in host on all-sports radio.

Ventura, 47, has always been a painter of word pictures. In the
past half decade, he has done color commentary on Minnesota
Vikings radio broadcasts, been fired as a talk host on KSTP radio
and--for the past 12 months--anchored the 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. slot on
all-sports station KFAN. It was a job the Body planned to return
to after his certain gubernatorial defeat. Four days before the
election, his poll numbers rising ominously, Ventura called his
KFAN producer and on-air foil, Joe Palan. "J.P.," he said, "what
am I gonna do if I actually win this thing?"

Now we shall see. We shall see what happens when a sports radio
talk-show host has the power to redress his every on-air
complaint. (Jet skiers have rights! Carpool lanes are wrong!)
Make no mistake: The Body's core constituency was a boisterous
call-in radio crowd, to judge by the scene at campaign
headquarters--a racetrack's clubhouse--on election night. The next
day on KFAN, sports bigwigs of every stripe telephonically
puckered up to Ventura, like fish going after the same piece of
corn. When Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor began to ask
Ventura how he was feeling, the governor-elect reminded him:
"This is sports-talk radio. I ask the questions. When the hell
are we gonna see some basketball? And don't give me no political
answer." When Vikings owner Red McCombs invited the Body to his
private box for any and every future game, Ventura replied that
as recently as three weeks ago he couldn't even get a Vikings
press pass. Said McCombs, nimbly, "That was three weeks ago,
Governor."

Indeed, though Ventura was an unapologetic homer as a radio host,
he was never very owner-friendly. He adamantly opposed using tax
dollars to fund a new Twins ballpark. "What's-his-name, Mike
Piazza, has signed for 91 million dollars for seven years," the
guv-to-be said last week. "And I'm gonna tell a 31-year-old with
a couple of kids that I'm taking her money so Mike has a place to
play?" The comment was cheered wildly by Ventura's live KFAN
audience at Joe Senser's Sports Grill & Bar. Last season the Body
hosted the anemically rated Vikings Unsensered in the same bar
every Monday night. This season, suddenly, he is world famous. On
election night, worried, quite unnecessarily, that he might bore
his audience, Ventura said at one point that he should just shut
up for a while. But the crowd roared its protest. "Well, then,"
said the Body, on live Twin Cities television, "I'll have to find
Mean Gene and turn this into a wrestling interview!" At that
instant, an entire state went deliriously bananas.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO [Drawing of Jesse Ventura wrestling while holding microphone]
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)