Mulling a possible third-party candidacy for Wisconsin governor, Allen "Ed" Thompson has turned to Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura for advice.
"He told me to do it and win," said Thompson, the mayor of Tomah, Wis., and brother of former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson. "That's easy enough to say. I haven't made that decision. I really haven't. I enjoy being mayor of Tomah, but I'd like to see if a third-party candidate can do it."
Ed Thompson, 56, spent 50 minutes with his hero at the Minnesota Capitol Tuesday.
Ventura, who won the Minnesota governorship as an Independence Party candidate, told Thompson it would be difficult to raise enough money for a viable campaign and said that participating in televised debates would be crucial.
Thompson's colorful past includes working as a professional poker player in Las Vegas, fighting in "Toughman" contests and serving as a prison cook.
Authorities raided his downtown Tomah supper club, Mr. Ed's Tee Pee, in 1997 as part of a sting of taverns suspected of operating illegal video gambling machines. They seized four nickel poker machines from his supper club.
Thompson was the only owner who refused to cut a plea deal, but the case against him had to be tossed out when authorities couldn't find enough unbiased jurors for his trial.
Thompson left the Republican Party and became a Libertarian after the gambling charges were filed against him.
He ran for mayor on a platform advocating legalizing video gambling in taverns and beat incumbent Mayor Bud Johnson, 1,179 votes to 909, in April of 2000.
Wisconsin's Libertarian Party set up the meeting, and Ventura's campaign manager is giving advice to Libertarian officials about a possible gubernatorial bid for Thompson.
Bob Collison, the party's Wisconsin chairman, said the pair are a lot alike.
"Ed Thompson has a lot of similarities to Jesse Ventura in the sense that he's a blue-collar type person. He appeals to the populist vote. He's got quite a following in the Tavern League," Collison said.
Ventura, a former wrestler nicknamed "The Body," was mayor of a Minneapolis suburb and later defeated heavily favored candidates in the 1998 election: St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman and Attorney General Hubert H. "Skip" Humphrey III.
Thompson said he has no nickname yet, although he might consider adopting "Ed the Belly."
From both mathematical and political standpoints, a third-party candidate like Thompson could have a chance at defeating candidates from the major parties, particularly in 2002, a non-presidential election year, when few voters typically show up at the polls, said Dennis Dresang, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor.
Thompson said his older brother, who now serves as U.S. secretary of health and human services, is cool to the idea.
"I said, 'Tommy, I got a lot of phone calls and e-mails asking me to do this,'" Thompson said, referring to a phone conversation with his brother a week ago.
"He hesitated and said, 'Well, what's new with being mayor?' and I thought, maybe he doesn't want to talk about it. Ten minutes later I said, 'Tommy, what do you think about this governor thing?' and there was a three-minute icy pause and finally he said, 'How's the kids?' "
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