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World Today

Jesse Ventura Denounces Reform Party, Praises John McCain but Withholds Endorsement

Aired February 14, 2000 - 8:04 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Another Reform Party casualty today: Donald Trump says the party just isn't cohesive enough for him to win a bid for president, so he will not run this year. Trump also blasted two high-profile Reform Party supporters, Pat Buchanan and David Duke.

The party lost Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura last week and replaced its chairman on Saturday.

The Minnesota governor is forcefully speaking out about his decision to bolt from the party. I spoke with him earlier this evening.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (on camera): Governor Ventura, thanks again for joining us on THE WORLD TODAY. It's always good to have you on our program.

GOV. JESSE VENTURA, MINNESOTA: Good to see you, Wolf. It's always a pleasure to be on.

BLITZER: All right. Let's get to presidential politics right now. Of all of the candidates running right now, who is best qualified in your opinion to be the next president of the United States?

VENTURA: Well, Wolf, I'm not going to make any determination or prediction or even tell you that until after the conventions are over. So, that means you'll have to have me on again about next August so I can tell you what I feel about that. But I will say this: They're all qualified. I think many of them that are now left over, there's a lot of good qualities to them all.

But if I were to look at one candidate who really has patterned his candidacy after mine and the way I won in Minnesota, I'd have to say Senator McCain is doing an outstanding job. Obviously, he did his homework on the Jesse Ventura method for winning, because he's going out and he's getting young people and disenchanted voters and he's getting them on board and he's resonating well with them. So I think he's doing a remarkable job considering that three, four months ago everybody said that Governor Bush had it all wrapped up. And it's hardly wrapped up now. I think it's going to be a horse race right to the wire by the time that one's over. BLITZER: You know, a lot of McCain supporters and his associates are saying they certainly would welcome Jesse Ventura's support. You obviously have a strong following out there. Have there been some discussions already between you or your people and the McCain camp as far as perhaps working together down the road?

VENTURA: No, there hasn't, not to my knowledge, and certainly not the senator and I. We spoke briefly a number of months ago, and I told him that at that time I thought his fit was better for the Reform Party. I would retract that today after watching what happened Saturday. What a dysfunctional mess that is, and I'm glad I quit last Friday. My timing again was perfect.

But the senator and I spoke only briefly, and we've had no contact since. But I think, you know, it will be rather difficult in some ways, because you know, he is seeking the Republican nomination, and I'm certainly not a Republican.

BLITZER: You know, a lot of people are saying that your departure from the Reform Party clears the way for Pat Buchanan to get the Reform Party presidential nomination and the $12 1/2 million in matching funds that come with it.

VENTURA: Well, you know, Pat Buchanan needs that money, because according to my sources he still owes a million and a half dollars from his last campaign, and he needs to be able to pay off that debt. So, that's probably one of the big motivating factors that made him to go after the Reform Party nomination.

I don't care, Wolf. I've left the party. I want nothing more to do with them. I encouraged Donald Trump not to seek their presidential nomination, and he concurred with that and he's not going to do that now.

So you know, Pat Buchanan might get $12 1/2 million, but I don't believe he's going to be any force in this election, because he doesn't have that many supporters. And he's just got this little tiny group in the Reform Party now, or what's left of it.

To me, it's in shambles anyway.

BLITZER: Well, do you think that there's still a possibility that the founder of the Reform Party, Ross Perot, will come back, come out of, if you will, retirement, and try to lead that party a third time?

VENTURA: Oh, I think that's definitely a possibility. I think that may be in the picture all along. And he may cut Buchanan right off at the knees, just like what happened in '96 when we had Governor Dick Lamm all set to be our presidential nominee and the Perot people came out of the woodwork and cut Dick Lamm off at the knees.

BLITZER: And governor, just to nail that one point, as far as the year 2000, Jesse Ventura being a presidential candidate is concerned, the answer is... VENTURA: No. And not even -- not even a vice presidential candidate, although I did say that if Senator McCain were to call me -- which he's not going to, because he's a Republican -- I certainly respect the man enough that I would sure listen to him, because I respect him as a person and I respect him for everything he's done in his life.

BLITZER: And it's even though you're not formally supporting anyone, that does come pretty close to an informal endorsement.

VENTURA: No, it doesn't. No, no, no. You are not going to drag me in on that one, Wolf. When I endorse someone, you'll know about it. I'll make sure of that.

BLITZER: And I'm sure the whole world will know about it as well.

(LAUGHTER)

Governor Jesse Ventura, always good to have you on THE WORLD TODAY. Thank you so much for spending some time with us.

VENTURA: Thank you, Wolf. Look forward to doing it again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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