- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 5, 2002


In the U.S. Senate's two centuries as a legislative body, only a few former members have won the privilege of a second act.

In today's elections, Walter F. Mondale in Minnesota and Frank R. Lautenberg in New Jersey seek places on that comeback list, each after moving into a suddenly empty spot on the ballot.

If Mr. Mondale, 74, is elected to fill the vacancy left by the death of fellow Democrat Paul Wellstone, it will have been 26 years since he last represented Minnesota in the Senate.

According to the Senate Historical Office, that would be the longest gap in service, rivaled only by the 25 years that separated Andrew Jackson's two Senate terms early in American history.

Senate historian Richard A. Baker says he can find no precedent for the circumstances under which Democrat Mr. Lautenberg returned to electoral politics at age 78. The former three-term senator had been retired for two years when Sen. Robert G. Torricelli's bid for re-election faded under an ethical cloud.

"That seems to be unique," Mr. Baker said, explaining that there is no other case in which a former senator replaced a still-serving senator on the ballot.

Overall, Mr. Mondale would be the 31st former senator to return to the chamber after an absence of 10 years or more. He would be just the seventh to do so in the last 100 years.

Mr. Lautenberg, out of office a far shorter time, would find his place among members who have served nonconsecutive terms since 1913, the year in which senators were first elected directly by the people rather than by state legislatures. If successful, Mr. Lautenberg would be No. 33.

Mr. Mondale left the Senate in 1976 to serve as Jimmy Carter's vice president. His return would make him just the fifth former senator to be elected to the chamber after serving as vice president.

Hubert H. Humphrey, Mr. Mondale's fellow Minnesotan and mentor, was returned to the Senate in 1970 after serving as vice president under Lyndon B. Johnson and failing in 1968 to win the presidency on his own.

Mr. Mondale won't be just another backbencher if he follows in Mr. Humphrey's footsteps.

A 1977 change in Senate rules made to honor Mr. Humphrey also would benefit Mr. Mondale. Under a standing order of the Senate, Mr. Mondale, as a former vice president, would assume the honorary post of deputy president pro tem. That would give him additional office space, a car, driver and a salary equal to the $172,200 received by the Senate's top leaders. As of January, other senators will be paid $155,000 a year.

Both Mr. Mondale and Mr. Lautenberg had been casting longing glances at their former Senate seats even before fate gave them a chance to reclaim them.

"Almost as soon as I announced my retirement, I had pangs of regret," Mr. Lautenberg said. Later, he added that he hadn't been out of the Senate for long before "I realized how much I missed it."

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