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A Correspondent's Quest To Find Jesse Ventura

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Captain Ahab pursued Moby Dick. The Pizarro Brothers sought El Dorado. And this week, NPR's David Welna went after the elusive former governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura. Here's his Reporter's Notebook.

DAVID WELNA: So I'm in Minnesota reporting on the U.S. Senate race between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and his Democratic challenger, Al Franken. And I keep hearing that Jesse Ventura, that pro wrestler turned governor turned surf bum in Mexico, might throw the Senate race into turmoil by jumping in himself.

Still, except for one obscure wine-lovers publication, Ventura has not granted a single interview request in nearly two months. So I looked up Ventura's old buddy and fellow independent, Dean Barclay. Over a beer, Barclay tells me Ventura's not saying whether he will go after Coleman's Senate seat.

Mr. DEAN BARCLAY (Former Ventura Campaign Chair): And he's getting more press by not doing anything than he ever would if he'd announced. So, you know, I think he's dumb like a fox. You know, I've had more interviews than Carter has pills because they can't get a hold of him, so who do they bug? They bug me.

WELNA: I asked Barclay to bug Ventura for an interview. It worked. Three days later, I'm alone with Ventura in an empty suburban Saint Paul parking lot. He insists he is still undecided about a run for the Senate.

Former Governor JESSE VENTURA (Independent, Minnesota): I will tell you this, that if I do get in, and if I am elected, they truly will have revolution show up in Washington.

WELNA: Are you any closer to making a decision about this?

Former Gov. VENTURA: No. No. I'll probably decide the day it happens, maybe the day before, so it doesn't wreck my birthday.

WELNA: That's next Tuesday, the day Ventura turns 57, and the filing deadline for the Senate race. And yet, the more I talked with Ventura, the more it sounds like he is running.

Former Gov. VENTURA: I'm running against the Democratic and Republican parties. That's who I'm running against. It is not the two particular individuals that they decide to prop up like puppets.

WELNA: So you are running?

Former Gov. VENTURA: If I run.

WELNA: It's like a game, but Ventura wants to make the rules.

Former Gov. VENTURA: You can try to trick me into words, whatever it is you reporters love to do. I've already - don't irritate me, or I'll stop talking to you.

WELNA: Before long, though, Ventura is asking me to play political pundit.

Former Gov. VENTURA: What do you think? Shall I take these bozos on?

WELNA: Well, I would love to see what happens.

Former Gov. VENTURA: Well, I just get a kick out of them. They love to shun me off like I'm irrelevant. You think they would've learned their lesson, you know. I'd be scared to death of me if I was them.

WELNA: Remember this, he adds. I am the most powerful man in America.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's David Welna. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.