By Published on .

When former professional wrestler and raucous radio show host-turned-actor Jesse Ventura threw his hat in the ring to run for governor of Minnesota last year, few believed he would crush the competition on election day.

Things looked darkest a month before the Nov. 3 election, as Mr. Ventura-once known as "The Body" on the World Wrestling Federation circuit-lagged far behind in the polls, despite putting his colorful career behind him and building a solid record as mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minn., from 1990-94.

Enter Bill Hillsman, a cagey 46-year-old political strategist and president of North Woods Advertising, Minneapolis.

Mr. Hillsman orchestrated a last-minute, low-budget campaign drawing on cleverness and grass-roots appeal, at a total cost of around $500,000, vs. the estimated $13 million spent together by his opponents. By the time the polls closed, Mr. Ventura-running on a Reform Party ticket-won with 37% of the vote, beating out Democrat Hubert H. (Skip) Humphrey and St. Paul Mayor Norman Coleman, to the shock of locals.

With more creative energy than ad budget, Mr. Hillsman oversaw development of several quickie TV spots, targeting younger voters, promising to lower property and income taxes. Without mentioning wrestling, the spots took a tongue-in-cheek approach.

The most-publicized spot, "Action Figure," showed two boys playing with a toy figure of the candidate who fought off a toy enemy, "Special Interest Man." Another spot positioned Mr. Ventura as "The Mind" by likening him to Rodin's sculpture "The Thinker."

"Jesse hit a nerve with people-the grass-roots nature of the campaign and the basic values we were communicating got across-proving it's not about media

Most Popular
In this article: