ST. PAUL -- Two of the biggest third-party political names in the country met Friday to commiserate over how tough it is to get funding, recognition and their names on the ballot, and to brainstorm about making it better.
Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader and Minnesota Independence Party Gov. Jesse Ventura were brimming with ideas after their nearly hourlong chat in the governor's office.
''It's very clear what happens whenever a third-party movement begins to gain strength. The two major parties come together and do whatever they can to squash that third party,'' Ventura said.
Ventura and Nader, a longtime consumer advocate, talked about legalizing industrial hemp, getting better ballot access for third parties and lowering the cutoff from 15 percent to 5 percent support for allowing candidates into national debates.
Recent polls have shown Nader's backing at about 6 percent of likely voters nationally.
Ventura pointed out that before he participated in Minnesota debates, he was polling about 10 percent and wouldn't have been allowed into the debates if the state and national guidelines were the same.
''Let's remember polling data is also fraudulent,'' Ventura said. ''It doesn't include people who have quit voting, young people ....''
Aside from trying to get that percentage lowered, Nader said he also would work to get regional labor and other groups to sponsor large-scale debates with Democrat Al Gore, Republican George Bush, Reformer Pat Buchanan and himself.
''If anything, it will keep people from falling asleep as they watch the drab debate the dreary,'' Nader said.
This was the first meeting between Nader and the flamboyant former professional wrestler who won Minnesota's highest office as the Reform Party candidate.
Nader didn't seek an endorsement from Ventura, and the governor didn't offer one -- yet.
Ventura said if he did endorse anyone, it likely wouldn't be until at least September. So far, Nader appears to be the only candidate who might qualify for an endorsement from Ventura, who has said he would not back a Democrat, Republican or Buchanan.
Asked whether he would campaign for Nader on specific issues they had discussed, Ventura grinned.
''I think I'm doing that now, aren't I?'' he said.
Friday evening, about 100 people attended a $100 per-head fund-raising dinner for Nader at the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis.
''We should never prejudge election outcomes. You know that in Minnesota,'' he said, telling supporters to get out and vote, and take 100 people along.
One of those supporters, Mark Gustafson, 48, of Champlin, said he spent $300 for himself, his wife and his daughter to attend the dinner -- about half his weekly paycheck.
Gustafson, a member of Ventura's Independence Party, said he has been a Nader supporter since 1969. He said the cost of the dinner was well worth it to help someone who preaches corporate responsibility.
''I'm ready to go broke,'' he said.
After the fund raiser, several thousand people packed into the University of Minnesota's Willey Hall in Minneapolis to hear Nader speak.
After a 1996 presidential run in which he didn't campaign and spent less than $5,000, Nader said in an interview he is serious this time. He is campaigning nationwide and says he has raised about $1 million, hoping for a total take of $5 million.
He has cited Ventura as an example of what can be done. At the Green Party national convention last month, Nader told delegates that if the Republicans and Democrats think he is joking about his chances of winning, they should talk to the disaffected Minnesota voters who made Ventura their governor.
One of his biggest challenges is getting beyond the serious image of consumer advocate.
''He's humorless. He's not charismatic, and he's not fun,'' said Steven Schier, a political science professor at Carleton College in Northfield. ''Ralph Nader needs attention and there's no better way to get attention than to stand next to Jesse Ventura.''
Nader admitted he has a few things to learn from the governor.
''He has a certain constituency, many of whom hadn't voted before voting for him,'' he said. ''We're trying to appeal to them in a very systematic way.''
While his odds of winning appear slim, he has begun to eat into Gore's support, which could affect the race. Recent national polls have shown Nader's support in most states is coming at Gore's expense.
Gore campaign manager William Daley conceded earlier this week that Nader threatens to siphon support from Gore.
''My impression is that the Gore campaign is not losing any sleep over this,'' Nader said. ''If Al Gore is not losing sleep over this, why should I worry about Al Gore? I'm worried about his taking votes from me.''
Nader recently hired Bill Hillsman, the unconventional admaker who helped Ventura in the 1998 gubernatorial campaign. Hillsman, based in Minneapolis, plans to film new footage of Nader during his trip to Minnesota.
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