Former Vice President, U.S. senator, and ambassador to Japan Walter Mondale says he decided to take Paul Wellstone's place on the DFL ticket because he loves his state and country and wants to serve again. Hundreds of DFL activists voted by acclamation to make Mondale the party's Senate candidate. He now has five days to campaign against Republican Norm Coleman.
Delegates to the DFL Central Committee meeting gathered in downtown Minneapolis five days after the plane crash that took the life of Paul Wellstone. Under the direction of party chairman Mike Erlandson, the activists made quick work of anointing a pillar of the Minnesota DFL to take Wellstone's place in the U.S. Senate race.
"All those in favor of nominating Walter F. Mondale and approving him as the next... well, the next United States senator from the state of Minnesota say aye! Opposed? We have a nominee! Fritz Mondale," Erlandson announced.
Mondale slowly made his way down the center aisle of the Historic State Theater, shaking hands along the way to the roaring cheers of the hundreds of DFL Central Committee members.
Wellstone was killed along with his wife, daughter, three campaign staffers and two pilots in a plane crash Friday in northern Minnesota. He had been in a nip-and-tuck battle against Coleman, the former St. Paul mayor.
At the podium, Mondale said a conversation with Wellstone's son, David, stirred him deeply and that after he and his wife Joan discussed the prospect of Senate run, both knew they had to do it, and wanted to do it.
"We are doing it because Paul and Sheila's fight for the working people and the forgotten people of Minnesota must go on," Mondale said.
Mondale said the nation's politics desperately needs balance. The White House and House of Representatives are controlled by Republicans and the fate of the Democrat-controlled Senate could hinge on the outcome of Minnesota's Senate race.
Mondale made no mention of Republican Norm Coleman, his chief opponent. Mondale did, however, underscore, his deep Minnesota roots. Coleman grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y.
"I know Minnesota. I was born here. I grew up here. I was married here. We raised our kids here. I graduated from the university here and I served our state for those wonderful years and I know ever bit of the state of Minnesota," he said.
Mondale went on to say he also knows the nation, the Senate and the White House and that he's worked in many places around the world. Mondale also made it clear, although it's been a long time since he's worked in Washington, he's in a position to pick up where he left off.
"And if I return to the Senate, I will be, under the rules, immediately part of the leadership of that great body."
Mondale navigated through virtually all of the issues that had dominated Minnesota's Senate race prior to Wellstone's death. Like Wellstone, Mondale said he, too, would oppose tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the rich, and he would be a corporate watchdog workers could trust to protect their pensions. He also talked about preserving Social Security, fighting for environmental protection and for a prescription drug benefit for seniors.
"I will be a voice for the parents who want schools where their kids can learn, the teachers who want to teach their children, the students who needs help to go on to school. The scientists and researchers who need the best laboratories and libraries in the world. I will stand up for the families who are hurting. Who are working with two jobs to make ends meet or who have no jobs at all," he said.
Mondale also told the crowd that he supports legalized abortion. And on the issue of war with Iraq, Mondale came down squarely on the side of Wellstone who voted against authorizing President Bush to use force against Saddam Hussein outside the purview of the international community.
"Iraq is dangerous but going it alone is dangerous too. We have a United Nations. Let's use it. We have allies," Mondale said.
Mondale ended his remarks pledging to travel the state in the coming days and to make his case to Minnesotans.
"My fellow Minnesotans, let us mourn together but let us also together make the music of democracy."
Republican Norm Coleman was across the river in St. Paul last night taking part in a Republican rally. Coleman did not mention Mondale's name in his remarks but Coleman made a point of talking about his focus on the future rather than the past. Coleman, who is 21 years younger than Mondale, emphasized his energy and readiness to work tirelessly in Washington. And Coleman proclaimed the era of big government long gone.
"These are times in our state where you've got to choose the right path and the choice is so clear. You can either move into the future or you can get stuck in the past," Coleman said.
Coleman appeared with Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty. Democrats are making sure to tie Roger Moe's DFL gubernatorial campaign to what they expect will be a groundswell of support for Mondale's re-entry into politics.
Moe introduced Mondale at the party's Central Committee meeting and Mondale said he will campaign with Moe.More from MPR