Wellstone's family asks Mondale to replace him on ballot

Monday, October 28, 2002

Sen. Paul Wellstone's oldest son has urged former Vice President Walter Mondale to step in as his late father's replacement on the Nov. 5 ballot, Democratic leaders said Sunday.

The state party's top official said the family's wishes will be a major factor in Mondale's decision.

Mike Erlandson, chairman of the state's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, said David Wellstone asked Mondale to run in his father's place. He and other surviving family members weren't immediately available to comment, the late senator's campaign staff said.

A group of up to 875 Minnesota Democrats will meet Wednesday to officially choose the substitute candidate for Wellstone, who died Friday in a plane crash.

Erlandson refused to say whether Mondale would be the nominee, although he has said the family's choice would weigh heavily in the decision. He said he believes Mondale will run if nominated.

Powerhouse candidate

If Democrats succeed in drafting Mondale, it will give them a powerhouse candidate for a six-day campaign against Republican Norm Coleman, the former St. Paul mayor who entered the race at the urging of President Bush. The race had been tight between Coleman and Wellstone and was a target of Republicans trying to regain control of the Senate.

State Republican officials have said they would attempt to cast a Mondale-Coleman race as a choice between a reluctant placeholder and someone who is eager to do the work.

"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."

Mondale, 74, hasn't returned calls to reporters or answered the door at his Minneapolis home.

Those close to Mondale said he isn't expected to comment publicly on a potential candidacy until after Tuesday's memorial service for Wellstone, his wife, daughter and three campaign workers who died in the plane crash. Relatives of the six passengers and two pilots visited the northern Minnesota crash site Sunday. The cause of the crash, which happened in freezing rain, remained under investigation.

Clear favorite

Erlandson said the blessing of Wellstone's surviving family members makes Mondale the clear favorite.

"He is certainly the public sentiment front-runner, among activists, among party leadership," Erlandson said. "We've had hundreds of phone calls and e-mails."

National Democratic leaders also have reached out to Mondale over the past two days.

During a visit to Wellstone's campaign headquarters Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Mondale was clearly the strongest choice, calling him "the great unifier."

"People in this state, people in this country can unite behind his strength," he said.

The battle for Wellstone's seat was one of a half-dozen or so expected to determine which party will control the Senate next year. The loss of Wellstone leaves the chamber split 49-49 among Republicans and Democrats, with one independent, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, who is allied with the Democrats.

Gov. Jesse Ventura still hasn't decided whether to appoint a temporary successor who would serve until the election winner is officially certified. He met with lawyers Saturday and said if he names someone, it probably will be a Democrat and someone who doesn't plan to run for the office.

His spokesman, John Wodele, said Sunday that Ventura will likely wait until after Tuesday's service to announce his intentions.

"If the governor decides it's necessary to name an appointment it would probably be before the election, but there is no urgency right now," Wodele said.

Erlandson said he hopes Ventura will hold off and name the election winner if an interim fill-in is needed.

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