Ventura watch: Does Bloomberg visit suggest a Senate run?

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New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is coming to town later this month to raise money for the Independence Party of Minnesota. The media mogul’s appearance at the Nicollet Island Pavilion in Minneapolis should provide welcome financial tonic for a party that hasn’t been much of a factor in recent elections.

Two years ago the party’s most credible statewide candidate was Peter Hutchinson, who pulled just 6 percent of the vote in the governor’s race. In 2006 Congressional races Tammy Lee won support from 21 percent of voters in the Democrat-dominated Fifth District, while John Binkowski was backed by 8 percent of voters in the Sixth District race won by Michele Bachmann.

This electoral cycle the IP’s prospects hardly look brighter. The party’s endorsed just four candidates, according to its web site, including Southern Minnesota farmer Stephen Williams in the U.S. Senate race. The only candidate with widespread-name recognition is Elwyn Tinklenberg — and of course he’s also backed by the Democratic Party.

So why would Bloomberg, who’s frequently been touted as a future presidential candidate, throw in his lot with this motley bunch? It’s impossible to say for certain, but one intriguing possibility is Jesse Ventura. The former governor has been skulking around the margins of the U.S. Senate race, threatening to jump into the fray. But if Ventura is truly serious about running, he would face a massive financial disadvantage in what’s expected to be the most expensive Senate race in the country. Might Bloomberg’s visit be a hint that Ventura is actually serious about running and provide a jump-start to his fundraising efforts?

John Wodele, who filled the unenviable job of press secretary during Ventura’s often turbulent four years as governor, says he doesn’t know whether his former boss intends to enter the U.S. Senate race. “I talked to him yesterday and he’s still keeping everybody guessing,” he notes.

With just 12 days left until the filing deadline, Wodele says he asked the former governor if he’d made up his mind about the contest. The response: “It’s way too early for that, John.”