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Looking Back: Mark Rosen Runs For Governor, Changes MN Politics

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Politics have changed a bit since 1986. Back then, we didn’t have social media, the Internet or very many third-party candidates. So on the eve of this year’s election, we look back at an unusual one.

It’s the story of WCCO-TV’s own Mark Rosen’s run for governor.

“It was all for a lark,” Rosen said. “It turned into something that people took more seriously than I ever expected.”

It was a trip down memory lane — one that moved Mark, Tom Barnard and Pat Kessler to song. And it also got them all to speculate about another radio-guy turned candidate.

Twenty-six years ago, Rudy Perpich was governor, Cal Ludeman was his Republican challenger and Pat Kessler covered it all.

“[The election] was about jobs and foreign trade: the economy,” Kessler said.

We’re still talking about the same issues today, but these campaigns were old school. Ludeman even had his own theme song, and Kessler remembers it well. So well, in fact, he can still sing it.

“Cal Ludeman / so wunderbar / A vote for him / will surely get you far,” sang Kessler.

Into that stuffy, traditional race jumped a different kind of candidate with a campaign song of his own: Mark Rosen.

Tom Barnard and Rosen had only been together for a few months at KQRS. But they were already making waves on morning radio, and wanted to do more.

“I just didn’t want to vote for either guy,” Barnard said.

He wanted him and Rosen to run their own campaign, as a joke.

“And none of us expected it. We thought this thing would fizzle out in a week or two,” Rosen said. “We just didn’t know.”

Sifting through his campaign keepsakes more than two decades later, Rosen can’t believe how it all took off.

“There were songs written and slogans, and it turned into an absolute firestorm,” Rosen said. “It was amazing.”

Kessler remembers walking out of the Capitol and seeing people seriously marching for Rosen. Barnard recalls seeing a Rosen for governor sign on a building across the street from Mayslaks in Northeast Minneapolis.

There were Rosen buttons, bumper stickers and newspaper stories.

“I’d be walking down the Nicollet Mall, and I’d see respectable businessmen wearing this button on their lapel. And they’d come up to me and shake my hand [and say] I’m really voting for you,” Rosen said.

Rosen added that he promised “what was called a CD player” in every home. CD players were brand new at the time.

He also had a memorable song: “Rosen, Rosen, Rosen…little Markie Rosen…sports guy.”

The song was a brilliant PR stunt, and it struck a chord, particularly with kids.

“It had to be tongue in cheek, but I think the appeal was that it was refreshing,” Rosen said. “It was different.”

And as the election approached, the sports guy drew a huge crowd outside a sports arena.

“The big rally we had at Met Center: that was astonishing, number 1, because we did have 10,000 people there. And it was powerful,” Rosen said.

According to Barnard, when Rosen walked out and saw all the people, he teared up a bit.

On Election Day, Perpich and Ludeman cast their ballots while Rosen and Barnard wondered, What if?

Rosen wouldn’t win. But he would get more than 9,000 write-in votes — more than any of the third-party candidates on the ballot, and it set the stage for a future candidate.

“And many people say that night…is the reason Jesse Ventura ended up being governor,” Barnard said.

Kessler said Ventura – the former wrestler who became a radio host — used the Rosen model when he made his run for governor.

“If I’m responsible for Jesse Ventura being governor, I either apologize or thank you, depending on your viewpoint of the man when he ended up being our governor,” Rosen said. “But he did learn from this.”

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