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Gore, Jesse Ventura Discuss Issues

Campaign: By reaching out to Minnesota's governor, the Democratic presidential candidate seeks independent votes. No endorsement was made.


MINNEAPOLIS — Vice President Al Gore reached out to independent-minded Gov. Jesse Ventura with a hastily scheduled breakfast meeting Saturday during a four-city weekend campaign swing.

Although brimming with enthusiasm from his Super Tuesday victories, Gore pointedly did not ask the rookie Minnesota governor for his political support, and none was offered. Both men said it was too early for that.

"We're both very well aware that those independent voters in the middle are going to determine the election," Ventura told reporters after their 45-minute meeting. But he added, "I'm here to talk issues more than endorsements."

By meeting with Ventura, Gore was symbolically reaching out to the kind of independent voters who were drawn to his Democratic opponent, former Sen. Bill Bradley, or Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. McCain and Bradley last week abandoned their presidential bids, but both did succeed in attracting the attention of independents.

The vice president got an early start on his weekend Friday in Albany, N.Y., with an appearance before the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force of the state Legislature. While en route to Minneapolis to speak to a veterans' group Friday night, Gore phoned the governor from Air Force Two to ask Ventura to breakfast, according to Paul Moore, Ventura's press secretary.

The colorful former wrestler quickly agreed and jauntily appeared at Gore's hotel before 8 a.m., wearing faded jeans, snakeskin boots and a black Rolling Stones Windbreaker.

Asked by a waiting horde of reporters what he expected from the meeting, he playfully called out, "Food!"

Both men told reporters later that they discussed a mutual interest in campaign reform as well as federal funding for special education.

"The vice president and I agreed the election rules need to be changed," Ventura said, reflecting an issue used effectively by McCain to appeal to many voters. "There needs to be a thorough cleansing of the system."

Although he played a peripheral role in 1996 Democratic Party fund-raising abuses, Gore also has spoken out for campaign finance reform and said he will continue to stress the issue.

Turning to special education, another issue Ventura has espoused, Gore said one of his goals as president would be to assure that the federal government provides as much as 40% of all funding for children with severe learning problems.

Some education advocates "have been trying to achieve this for 30 years, but we've never come close to that figure," Gore said.

Ventura said he anticipates having a similar meeting about election issues soon with Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the presumed GOP nominee for president.

Ventura had been the Reform Party's highest-ranking elected official but quit the fractious party last month, calling it "hopelessly dysfunctional."

After his meeting with Ventura, Gore flew to Chicago, where he served as grand marshal of that city's early St. Patrick's Day parade and made a brief appearance at an AFL-CIO "working women's conference" before flying to Houston for a Gore 2000 fund-raising dinner.

Seemingly energized by his session with Ventura, Gore plunged into a round of hand-shaking and palm-slapping along Dearborn Street as he led the parade in near-freezing temperatures.

Secret Service agents had trouble keeping up with the vice president as he darted from one side of the street to the other to greet parade viewers, who stood seven deep from the curbs.

"Isn't this great?" Gore exclaimed, hatless and wearing only one glove as he grabbed for hands.

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