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DFL looks to Mondale
By Laura McCallum
Minnesota Public Radio
October 27, 2002


As Minnesotans continue to mourn the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone, Democrats across the state are starting to talk about who will replace Wellstone on the ballot. State DFL officials are reluctant to talk politics before a public memorial service for Wellstone Tuesday night, but they don't have much time, with the election in just over a week. Party activists meet Wednesday night to choose a new Senate candidate, and it's likely to be former Vice President and Sen. Walter Mondale.

Mike Erlandson
Mike Erlandson, chairman of the state's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, wouldn't say if Mondale would be the nominee, but he said he believes Mondale will run if nominated. Listen to his Sunday news conference.
(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)

Wellstone's oldest son David, his campaign manager and a longtime friend met with Mondale over the weekend, and urged him to run. DFL state party chair Mike Erlandson says Mondale is the choice of the Wellstone family.

Mondale, 74, won't say publicly whether he's interested in the job, but Erlandson says he thinks Mondale will run.

"The vice president, I believe, if asked by the party -- as he's been asked by the family -- would be willing to, if nominated, seek election on November 5," Erlandson says. "But again, I reiterate that the vice president will have absolutely no comment to make to the media."

Erlandson asked reporters to respect Mondale's privacy until after Wellstone's public memorial service. The 875-member DFL Central Committee will meet Wednesday night in Minneapolis to select a Senate candidate.

One of the delegates, State Rep. Greg Gray, says Wellstone would have wanted the party to pick a candidate who would follow in his footsteps. Gray says Mondale is the obvious choice.

Norm Coleman
"Walter Mondale is a good man," Coleman said Sunday, declining to comment further on his potential opponent. "There will be a campaign, but now is not the time." Listen to his statement.
(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)

"I think Walter Mondale is the concensus among the vast majority of Democrats of someone who has a progressive record, someone who has the stature and the experience to enter into a campaign this late and have credibility, and I think that's critically important at a time like this," says Gray.

Mondale held the same Senate seat from 1964 to 1976, before becoming vice president under Jimmy Carter. He was soundly defeated when he ran for president in 1984. Mondale also appears to have the backing of national Democratic leaders.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle called Mondale a hero of his, and says there's little doubt that Minnesotans and Americans would unite behind Mondale. Daschle met with Wellstone campaign staffers over the weekend, and says he told them that Wellstone's legacy will live on.

In front of Wellstone's campaign headquarters in St. Paul, with Wellstone supporters in the background, Daschle said Wellstone would want Democrats to conduct a vigorous campaign.

Tom Daschle
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., visited Wellstone headquarters in St. Paul Sunday. Listen to his comments.
(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)

"Paul Wellstone would raise his right arm, he would cheer and he would say, 'Let's do it! Let's win this election! We're going to do it for everybody, are you with me?' And we'd all say yes!"

Daschle called Wellstone the soul of the Democratic Party. He predicts Wellstone's death will energize Democrats around the country to go to the polls on Nov. 5.

Wellstone's Republican opponent, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, says he won't resume his campaign for a few days. He says Minnesotans still need time to grieve. Coleman didn't want to talk about his likely opponent, except in positive terms.

"Walter Mondale's a good man. Paul Wellstone's a good man," Coleman says. "He was my political opponent. He made me a better candidate. I loved going to those debates with him. His passion, his fire, he made you better."

Coleman and Wellstone had been engaged in a tight battle, in one of a half-dozen or so races that could determine which party controls the Senate next year.

Gov. Ventura hasn't decided whether to appoint a temporary successor to fill out Wellstone's term. Spokesman John Wodele says the governor told Wellstone's family that if he appoints a successor, it won't happen until after Wellstone's memorial service.

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