Midwest Regional Sweet Sixteen Matchup: Ventura vs. Manchin
#1 seed: Former Governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura (I-MN)
Born: July 15, 1951 (age 61) — Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Background: Ventura, born James George Janos, was best known for his stint in the Navy as a UDT “frogman” (a branch that later merged with the SEALS), and as a professional wrestler in the World Wrestling Federation. His first run for elected office was successful when he knocked off a 25 year incumbent in the town of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota and served one term from 1991-1995. In 1998, Ventura ran for Governor of Minnesota as a third party candidate, handily defeating better funded major party candidates from both sides of the aisle.
Former Party: Reform Party. Ventura ran for Governor on the Reform Party platform (which gained national relevance during Ross Perot’s presidential runs), but became affiliated with the Independence Party of Minnesota after Pat Buchanan’s takeover of the National Reform Party in his 2000 presidential run.
Strength: Outspoken, opinionated, and visceral connected with voters. Ventura’s election as Governor is considered by many to be the biggest upset in the history of American electoral politics, but in retrospect, it’s hard to see why. One of Ventura’s common refrains during the 1998 election was urging voters “not to vote for politics as usual,” and he often described himself as “fiscally conservative, but socially liberal” — an oft heard refrain from independent voters across the country who don’t identify with either Democrats or Republicans.
Weakness: Relevancy. Ventura’s latest stint in the public eye was his show on TruTV — “Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura.” While this may be anecdotally impressive, due to the fact TruTV also shows real March Madness games, it’s certainly far from a position of power for Ventura to share his unique and important opinions on American politics. His recent publication of DemoCRIPS and ReBLOODLicans: No More Gangs In Government was a better effort, but Ventura needs a better future platforms to express himself if he wants to regain any sort of political relevance in 2013 and beyond.
#4 seed: Senator Joe Manchin III (D-WV)
Born: August 24, 1947 (age: 65) — Farmington, West Virginia.
Background: An energy executive (the family business) by trade, Manchin entered politics early winning a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates at age 35 in 1983. He was elected to the West Virginia State Senate in 1987 where he served until 1996 when he unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic nomination for Governor, finishing second. Manchin later became Secretary of State in 2000, Governor in 2005, and in 2010, Manchin won the special election to fill Senator Robert Byrd’s seat.
Former Party: None.
Strength: Moderation and bipartisan spirit. In 2010, Congressional Quarterly named Manchin the “2nd Most Bipartisan” Senator in Congress, and a 2012 analysis from Bloomberg Government found that Manchin crossed the aisle more than any of his Democratic colleagues, voting with Republicans 27% of the time. Manchin famously met one on one with all 99 of his colleagues in 2010 after winning election to the Senate, and has been prominently involved with No Labels since it’s launch in 2010.
Weakness: Support for unpopular gun lobby. Things haven’t been going well for Manchin in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy and Congress’s weak attempts at enacting new gun control legislation. Manchin’s been stuck in the middle of a rock (The Democratic Party) and a hard place (one of his biggest financial backers, the NRA) on this issue, and has recently come under fire (no pun intended) for refusing to even take questions from the media on the issue during public appearances.