- The Washington Times - Friday, November 1, 2002

Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale yesterday began a five-day campaign for the Senate by denying that he is too old or out of touch with voters to serve effectively.

"I don't apologize for my experience," Mr. Mondale, 74, told reporters. "I think it's an asset."

During the 1984 presidential campaign, Mr. Mondale questioned then-President Reagan's capacity to do his job at the age of 73.

The Democrat who last held public office in 1981 was selected as a replacement on the ballot for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who was killed in a plane crash on Friday along with his wife, daughter and five other persons.

Mr. Mondale's campaign staff released a letter from his personal physician pronouncing him in "excellent shape," although he suffered partial vision loss in his right eye due to a blood clot in February.

Mr. Mondale pledged to hold at least one debate with Republican Norm Coleman, the former mayor of St. Paul. But he said he first wants to travel the state to learn what Minnesotans are thinking.

"My opponent has been campaigning for six years," Mr. Mondale said, speaking to voters. "I have been out here 12 hours. The time is so short. I ask you to give me your help."

Mr. Coleman said voters won't hand the Senate seat to Mr. Mondale out of sympathy.

"He'll have to earn it," Mr. Coleman said. "People will demand that of him. Minnesotans don't give anything to you for nothing."

Mr. Coleman continued his vigorous tour of the state, visiting three more cities and pledging to be a strong supporter of the Bush administration's anti-terrorism efforts.

The Republican also said competing against Mr. Mondale is like campaigning against "Mount Rushmore."

"I'm running against an icon," Mr. Coleman said.

Some conservatives went after Mr. Mondale for his acceptance speech, in which he criticized the Bush administration's income-tax cuts.

Darrell McKigney, president of the Washington-based Small Business Survival Committee, said Mr. Mondale hasn't learned from the "economic dark days" of the Carter-Mondale years that high taxes are bad for the economy. The group is a nonprofit, nonpartisan lobbying arm for small businesses.

"Obviously, in the 22 years Walter Mondale has been out of public office, he hasn't learned that high taxes are bad for the economy," Mr. McKigney said. "I worry that Mr. Mondale would want to put the top income-tax rate back to 70 percent, where it was when he left the White House."

Mr. Mondale pledged to serve a full six-year term and to carry on the liberal tradition of Mr. Wellstone.

"There was something about him the way he tapped the spirit and the soul of our state, and the way he fought in Washington to have that spirit understood there that has to be continued," Mr. Mondale said.

He defended the partisan tone of a memorial service for Mr. Wellstone and the other crash victims held Tuesday night, at which the crowd booed Republican officials and cheered Democrats.

"Let us remember that this unbelievable event heard from speakers who were talking about loved ones in their family who had lost their lives," Mr. Mondale said. "They were not censored in what they had to say. And at least some of them maybe went a little bit over the line."

Meanwhile, in a partial victory for the Democrats, the state's Supreme Court yesterday ordered local election officials to send out new absentee ballots to those who demand to change their Senate vote following Mr. Wellstone's death.

The ruling, however, fell short of Democrats' demands that all absentee votes already cast be thrown out and new ballots mailed to every person, whether they asked for a new one or not.

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