Ventura speaks out -- loudly -- for Kerry, against Bush
By Patrick Condon
ANOKA, Minn. -- Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura is silent no more on why he's supporting Sen. John Kerry for president.
Unleashing a strong attack against President Bush, Ventura appeared Thursday at community colleges in three Twin Cities suburbs, encouraging young people to vote. When Ventura showed up at a news conference last week to endorse Kerry, he refused to speak.
But the political independent didn't hold his tongue Thursday, employing his typical mix of blunt talk, humor and anger in criticizing the Bush administration. He took the president to task for the war in Iraq, the federal budget deficit, and for what he said is Bush's failure to separate his faith from his policies on issues like stem cell research.
"Personal spiritual beliefs are fine," said Ventura, who wore a Navy Seals T-shirt, blue jeans and tennis shoes. "But this is your job. You have to be able to separate the two. I believe John Kerry understands this distinction. President Bush does not."
He also criticized Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for leading U.S. soldiers into the war in Iraq, which Ventura said he's opposed from the beginning. Ventura drew a distinction between Kerry's volunteer service in Vietnam, as opposed to Bush and Cheney, who he said avoided going overseas.
"A true leader should never ask you to do something he's not willing to do himself," Ventura said. "In the case of Bush and Cheney, they're asking you to do something they were not willing to do when it was their turn."
Randy Wanke, spokesman for the Minnesota Republican Party, said that Minnesotans were "tired with Jesse Ventura's antics" by the time he left office and predicted his support wouldn't help Kerry in the state.
"I'm guessing Jesse Ventura misses the spotlight, and he's out there desperately trying to grasp at it today," Wanke said.
Kerry's Minnesota campaign said Ventura volunteered to campaign for Kerry.
Rachel Montague, a student at Anoka Technical College and a Bush supporter, said after Ventura's appearance there that she had voted for him in 1998 -- and was disappointed that he is supporting Kerry.
"He's coming out and endorsing a career politician, and he's been bashing career politicians for 20 years," Montague said. "That to me is a little hypocritical."
Ventura, who decided not to seek re-election in 2002 after one term, said he hasn't abandoned third-party politics.
But he said he's also a realist: "One of these guys is going to win, and I think John Kerry has a better grasp of the situation," Ventura said. "He's a diplomat, and he can bring respect from the world."
Adam Wilson, a student at Anoka Technical, said he's undecided but had been leaning toward Bush. He said he was surprised by Ventura's support of Kerry.
"Bush is this stereotype of the go out and get 'em, hunt 'em down kind of guy," Wilson said. "I thought Jesse would be all about that. He definitely got me thinking."
Before his speeches, Ventura chatted amiably with students and signed Kerry-Edwards posters but wouldn't answer questions from reporters.
Ventura said his contract with MSNBC, where he briefly had a TV show last year, prohibits him from doing cable and news interviews. Network spokesman Jeremy Gaines said that Ventura's contract only governs his TV appearances.
Ventura also explained that he's sporting his new look -- long hair and a braided beard -- to show freedom of choice and freedom of speech.
"I believe in personal freedom, freedom of choice and freedom of expression. I chose to look like this after I left office. There's not a former Democrat or Republican governor in the country who would dare to look like this," Ventura said.