Big Willie style

Controversial Florida state Rep. Willie Logan is hiring Jesse Ventura's adman to launch his grass-roots Senate campaign.


Jake Tapper
September 1, 1999 4:00PM (UTC)

In his underdog campaign to run for U.S. Senate as an independent candidate, Florida state Rep. Willie Logan is clearly looking to Minnesota Gov. Jesse "The Body" Ventura as a role model. And though Logan isn't exactly shaving his head and donning feather boas and multicolored Spandex, he is doing the next best thing: hiring Ventura's media guru.

On Thursday, Logan will announce his candidacy for the seat currently held by retiring conservative Republican Sen. Connie Mack III and introduce his campaign team -- including Bill Hillsman of Minneapolis-based North Woods Advertising.

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Hillsman masterminded the television and radio ads that played a pivotal role in sending the former pro-wrestler, talk radio shock-jock, C-list movie actor and small-town mayor to the Minnesota state Capitol in St. Paul. When Ventura announced he was challenging St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, and former state Attorney General Hubert "Skip" Humphrey, the Democrat, no one took him very seriously.

Similarly, Logan -- who was elected mayor of the predominantly African-American city of Opa-locka when he was 23 -- knows something about being an underdog.

As a liberal African-American state representative in Tallahassee, Logan, now 42, was constantly on the losing side of legislative debates. After being elected to the state House in 1983, Logan worked his way up the leadership track. In 1996, the Miami Herald named him the second-most-effective member of the state House of Representatives.

But in January 1998, Logan's fellow Democrats ousted him as speaker-designate and replaced him with a white woman representing Fort Lauderdale. Many of the Democrats claimed that Logan had lost their confidence because he devoted too little time to the party. Others viewed the move as racially motivated.

Feisty and quick with a quote, Logan has some charismatic similarities to Ventura.

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But Ventura's campaign was greatly aided by more than $300,000 in contributions from his state's public campaign financing system, high name-recognition from his earlier days as a wrestling celebrity, public weariness with politicians stemming from the Clinton/Starr debacle and a lack of affiliation with either of the two major political parties.

Logan hopes to face off against his opponents in quite a different arena than the one where "The Body" wreaked havoc. Minnesota has a long history of electing outspoken firebrands. With a handful of exceptions, Florida likes its politicians more reserved, like Democratic Sen. Bob Graham, Republican Gov. Jeb Bush and Mack.

Mack is chairman of the Joint Economic Committee and grandson of legendary Philadelphia Athletics baseball manager and owner Connie Mack. Mack announced he would not run for reelection last March. In May, Logan threw his hat into the ring, albeit unofficially, by creating an exploratory committee.

Logan has his work cut out for him.

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U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum has also announced his intention to seek the seat; and some speculate that Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan or Education Commissioner Tom Gallagher may face off against him for the GOP nomination. On the Democratic side, Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson has announced his intention to run.

A June poll by Florida Voter, a nonpartisan political journal, asked Floridians whom they would choose among McCollum, Nelson and Logan. Nelson won handily with 41 percent; McCollum scored 29 percent and Logan trickled in with only 6 percent.

Logan wasn't much more popular among his supposed base, as he was favored by only 8 percent of the African-American voters polled.

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McCollum, one of the House impeachment managers, announced in July that he had already raised a war chest of more than $1.35 million, including $900,000 raised in the first half of this year.

"I am honored and humbled by the outpouring of support," McCollum said, saying that only he would be able to "continue Connie Mack's strong legacy of less taxes, less government and more freedom."

Still, Logan watchers say not to count their man out. "Do not underestimate Willie Logan," the political editor of the St. Petersburg Times wrote in May. "He might not turn out to be Florida's Jesse 'The Body' Ventura, the pro wrestler who came out of nowhere to win the Minnesota governorship. But he could be the same kind of wild card in a Senate race that could use some excitement."

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Backhanded compliments like "wild card" and "cause some excitement" echo the dismissive coverage Ventura got from the Minnesota press corps -- until he won.


Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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