- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2002

ST. PAUL, Minn. Republican Norm Coleman took an early lead over former Vice President Walter F. Mondale last night in a pivotal Senate race where the GOP was being helped by unusually high voter turnout.

With 18 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Coleman led by 53 percent to 44 percent.

But the election was not expected to be decided last night, because of the large number of paper ballots, the shadow of legal fights and the unusual closeness of the race. Mr. Mondale even spoke to supporters before midnight, with few ballots having been counted and no victor called by the news organizations.

Coleman strategists said Republican turnout was especially strong in southern and western suburbs surrounding the Twin Cities. Those are areas where Republicans have to draw well to offset the Democrats' big urban vote in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Mondale campaign officials hoped that later returns would turn their way as votes came in from their strongholds elsewhere in the state.

"It's still awfully early," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for the Mondale campaign.

Coleman officials were cautiously optimistic that early returns, many of which were from paper ballots that had to be counted by hand, favored Mr. Coleman.

"In the precincts that have reported in, we're hitting our targets. We feel good about where we are," said Ben Whitney, Mr. Coleman's campaign manager.

Mondale campaign official reported heavy voting in St. Paul and Minneapolis, urban Democratic strongholds, as well as across the northern tier of the state, where unemployment is high.

Minnesota traditionally has some of the nation's highest turnout figures. In a nation where turnout averages about 34 percent of eligible voters in midterm elections, 59.1 percent of Minnesota voters went to the polls in 1998.

"We're seeing very high turnout in our bellwether precincts, but turnout is going to be very heavy on both sides," said Jim Farrell, spokesman for the Mondale campaign. "It could hit 80 percent."

Both the Mondale and Coleman campaigns pounded each other with increasing ferocity in the closing hours of the campaign yesterday.

Mr. Coleman, making an all-night tour of the state for every last vote he could find, reminded voters at each stop what the economy was like when Mr. Mondale was vice president under President Carter.

"Anybody want to go back to 24 percent interest rates? Anybody want to go back to double-digit inflation? The choice in this race is clear," he said at a rally at the Taylor Center basketball arena in Mankato.

Mr. Mondale, who had said earlier he would run "a civil campaign," accused Mr. Coleman of running "the trashiest campaign in modern American history."

The race between Mr. Coleman and the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, who had one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate, was, as expected, a no-holds-barred scrap.

Mr. Wellstone ran television ads throughout the summer on one issue: Social Security. The ads charged that President Bush's plan to let workers invest part of their payroll taxes, which Mr. Coleman supports, would cut benefits for retirees. Mr. Coleman said it would not "cut one dime from anyone's benefits."

When Mr. Wellstone was killed in a plane crash along with his wife, daughter and five other persons Oct. 25, Mr. Mondale replaced him on the ballot. The issues did not change, but the campaign dynamics did.

At age 74, Mr. Mondale is one of the state's political icons, and as soon as he agreed to run, his polls shot up in a dramatic outpouring of sympathy for Mr. Wellstone's death.

Then came last week's Wellstone memorial service, which Democrats turned into a political rally where some Republican leaders who came to pay their respects were booed. The nationally televised debacle outraged many voters, including many Democrats and independents, and the race turned into a dead heat.

"I think some statements went over the line unfortunately, and some of it resulted in partisan politics," Mr. Mondale said to reporters after his debate with Mr. Coleman on Monday. "We've all made mistakes."

Mr. Wellstone's two sons appeared at some of the Mondale campaign events and spoke movingly about their dad.

"We just want to say one thing: We know what my father would want. Let's win it for Fritz," Mark Wellstone told a Democratic get-out-the-vote rally last night.

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