ST. PAUL -- When Jesse Ventura huffed his way out of Minnesota's governor's race last week, most assumed the ripples would fade from the state's political waters.
Now Ventura's choice for a successor is entering the race, giving the governor's Inde-pendence Party a chance to retain the office and guaranteeing Minnesotans another entertaining political season.
Tim Penny, a former congressman, said Thursday he is leaving the Democratic Party to run for governor on the Independence Party ticket, a move encouraged by Ventura.
Already in the race are two of the state's most powerful lawmakers -- Democrat Roger Moe, the 20-year leader of the Senate, and Republican Tim Pawlenty, the second-in-command of the House. Ken Pentel is running under the Green Party banner.
A recent poll by the Star Tribune of Minneapolis found Penny about even with Moe and Pawlenty. Each man is attracting support from about a quarter of voters, with 5 percent backing Pentel.
The Independence Party already had a candidate -- Ventura's education commissioner Christine Jax. But party leaders and Ventura are openly pushing Penny. The party convention is July 13; the primary is Sept. 10.
Neither Moe nor Pawlenty has serious primary opposition.
Penny, 50, has long been highly regarded across Minnesota's political spectrum -- the state Reform Party tried to nominate him for president in 1996. But he has resisted calls for a political comeback since leaving Congress in 1995.
While he's Ventura's pick, he's not very similar to the pro wrestler turned political lightning rod. Raised on a farm, and of Scandinavian stock, Penny is wonkish, pale and speaks deliberately.
Yet he's built a loyal following in the southern Minnesota district he represented for six terms with his willingness to criticize politicians of all stripes and his persistent calls for budget discipline.
Penny's entrance shakes up the race as much as Ventura's exit did.
There "is much interest from political observers on what's going to happen when you have a strong credible independent candidate against two well-known, credible partisans," said Blois Olson, editor of the political Web site MNPolitics.com.
Moe, an officeholder for 32 years, at first tried to dissuade Penny's candidacy, saying the two would be fishing from the same waters. Now he's switched his aquatic metaphors: "Come on in, the water's fine," he said.
He said he believes Penny -- who supports partial privatization of Social Security and dislikes gun control -- will ultimately take more votes from the GOP's Pawlenty.
Pawlenty says he welcomes Penny, betting Penny's Democratic roots will turn off conservatives.
"We like it crowded," said his campaign manager, Tim Commers. "It's crowded with Democrats."
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