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No Mixed Message From Jesse

When Jesse Ventura became governor of Minnesota, he brought new life to the Reform Party. He demonstrated the party could actually win a major office, and he showed that someone other than Ross Perot, the party's querulous billionaire founder, could wield power.

Ventura will keep holding the office, but he's no longer interested in tussling with Perot for control of the party. Dissatisfied with the rampant factionalism of a party built on whimsy and aimless discontent, Ventura's striking out on his own.

With his breath steaming in the chilly winter air, a piqued Ventura spared little criticism for a party under whose auspices he won the governorship.

"It is unworthy of my support and the support of the American people," Ventura said. The former professional wrestler also blasted one of the party's newest, highest-profile members.

"I can't stay within a national party that has Pat Buchanan as its presidential nominee," Ventura said.

The intense buzz surrounding the news conference drew yawns from Reform Party members loyal to founder Ross Perot. Gerry Moan, vice president of the Reform Party's national committee, dismissed the significance of Ventura's possible departure.

"So what?" he said. "We've been here before him and we'll be here long after him."

But if there's one man in the party who has a national bully pulpit, it's Governor Ventura. And now, the Governor says he wants to work on building a viable third party movement (with Minnesota as its leader) without the "distractions of a dysfunctional national party." He thinks his new Independent party can accomplish that. 300 state Reform convention delegates will likely vote next month on whether to join him.

The Reform Party started, in essence, as a cult of personality centered around Perot. As such, there wasn't room for a second personality. Ventura had some very different ideas from Perot and there was friction from the start. Friday, at his press conference, Ventura made a point of saying the national party - meaning Perot - had never lifted a finger to help get him elected in 1998.

In turn, Perot resisted Ventura's every move - he has resisted Ventura pal Donald Trump. Perot also resisted as long as he could Jack Gargan, a Ventura man who now chairs the Reform Party.

So stiff is Perot's resistance that Gargan may be toppled at a Reform Party meeting this weekend in Nashville. Gargan says this meeting is illegal, and that he'll use any means necessary to block a move to dump him.

Intriguingly, Gargan also hinted this week that Ventura's absence from the Reform Party might be "very temporary." If Gargan can push the Perot wing out of the way, it is not unthinkable that Ventura would return.

Perot himself can't be counted out of the presidential race. Like a four-year-locust, he emerges at each election season, and he could do so again this time if he decides he doesn't like the way things are going.
And Trump? In a telling detail, Ventura said he'd spoken to Trump about his decision. "I've got Donald's full blessing to do it," the Governor said. "Maybe he'll be the presidential candidate for the Independent party of America."

Trump has flirted with the idea of a run for the White House, but recently seemed to lean against the notion. A new party is a new ballgame, though.

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