- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2002

Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, offended by the partisan tone of a memorial service for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, said yesterday he would consider appointing an independent to replace the liberal Democrat.
"They went over the edge," said Ventura spokesman John Wodele of the crowd that cheered Democrats and jeered Republicans. The governor "was pretty well convinced he should appoint a Democrat, but he is rethinking now." The replacement would serve until January.
The state Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party last night officially selected former Vice President Walter F. Mondale to replace Mr. Wellstone on the ballot.
"Tonight, our campaign begins," the 74-year-old Mr. Mondale said at last night's meeting. "I start it with a pledge to you. I will be your voice, and I will be Paul Wellstone's voice for decency and better lives."
At a special meeting last night, more than 800 party delegates backed the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee with a boisterous and unanimous "yea." There was no dissent and Mr. Mondale was mobbed as he made his way to the podium to speak.
It was the boisterous partisanship of a different crowd that angered Mr. Ventura on Tuesday night at the University of Minnesota. He and first lady Terry Ventura walked out of the arena to boos, shaking their heads when Rick Kahn, treasurer of the Wellstone campaign, urged the crowd to "help us win this Senate election for Paul Wellstone."
"By the time they got to Senator Wellstone's friend, Mr. Kahn, it became nothing more than a blatant political commercial, and every major television and radio station in Minnesota was carrying it live," Mr. Wodele said. The governor "didn't want to be a part of it."
The chairman of the Wellstone campaign apologized late yesterday after a day of growing recriminations.
"It was not our intent to inject that into the service," said Jeff Blodgett, the chairman. "I take responsibility for that, and I regret it." He said he had had a "conversation" with Mr. Kahn, a professor at Carleton College, but declined to describe it.
An Internet "instant poll," taken by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, found that 60 percent of respondents said it was not a memorial service, but a political rally. Another 15 percent said Mr. Wellstone's Republican opponent should get "a three and a half hour TV show."
Many in the audience of 20,000 booed and jeered when the images of Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, and former Republican Sen. Rod Grams flashed on giant television screen. They cheered the images of Mr. Mondale and former President Bill Clinton.
Mr. Lott walked out, too, but spokesman Ronald Bonjean said Mr. Lott had a plane to catch and that the event ran longer than the hour that was billed.
The service infuriated some Republicans, coming six days before election. State Republican Party Chairman Ron Eibensteiner called it a "planned political rally," and the party requested equal time from television and radio stations.
"It was billed as a memorial service, but it was a planned political rally," said Mr. Eibensteiner, who called on networks to televise a Republican rally in St. Paul last night.
At least one network affiliate said it would likely give extra coverage to President Bush's campaign stop in Minnesota this weekend for 52-year-old Republican challenger Norm Coleman, a former mayor of St. Paul. Other stations said they received calls complaining about the coverage, but thought it would have been inappropriate to cut away from the event that had been billed as a memorial.
Mr. Coleman immediately took the offensive against Mr. Mondale, even before the official coronation: He began airing new TV commercials yesterday and targeted Mr. Mondale in campaign stops in three Minnesota cities.
"The challenge for the vice president is, what is his vision for the 21st century, how does he expect to get it done," Mr. Coleman said at a stop in International Falls. "Nobody hands you anything."
State Republican Party officials reported that donations to their campaign grew by $150,000 in four hours from grass-roots supporters who were angered by the display of partisanship. The campaign offices of Mr. Coleman also received scores of supportive calls, officials said.
Some Democrats said yesterday that Wellstone supporters got caught up in the emotion of the moment. State DFL Party Chairman Mike Erlandson defended the three-hour service, saying the eulogies were sincere. "If my Republican friends want to look at this as a rally, they can do that," he said. "It was a rally by some people not schooled in public speaking about some very special people."
But the governor's spokesman said the event smacked of a planned political rally.
"The people were led to believe this would be a memorial," Mr. Wodele said. "They took the organizers at their word, and they were duped.
"It's hard to hear some of the claims that it just got out of control, and no one's to blame," he said. "Somebody had to boo and jeer, and someone had to write those speeches prior to [the service]. Those speeches weren't spontaneous. They were prepared text. Even if you didn't have Rick Kahn, then Senator Harkin's [speech] gets close to being a political war cry also."
Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat who is also running for re-election, implored the crowd in his speech to climb aboard Mr. Wellstone's campaign bus.
"We must continue Paul's journey for justice in America" he said. "Will you stand up, join together and board that bus? Say 'yes.' For Paul Wellstone, will you stand up and keep fighting for social justice? Say 'yes.'
"For Paul," Mr. Harkin repeated, as the crowd took up the chant. "For Paul."
Mr. Wodele said Mr. Ventura will likely appoint a replacement for Mr. Wellstone on Nov. 5 "once the polls are closed." That person would serve in any lame-duck session in the Senate until the winner of the Coleman-Mondale contest is certified.
Mr. Ventura has said he expects the Senate election to be contested in court. With Mr. Wellstone's death, the Senate has 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one independent who aligns himself with the Democrats.
The Coleman campaign began running its first ad since the tragedy. In the ad, Mr. Coleman speaks directly to Minnesotans, asking voters to look toward the future and make an informed choice on Tuesday.
"I have to ask you to look with me into the future," Mr. Coleman says in the ad. "This election is about hope, and opportunity; about jobs. It's about quality education for our kids. It's about taking care of our parents and grandparents. It's about changing the tone in Washington."
An independent poll released yesterday showed Mr. Mondale with 47 percent and Mr. Coleman with 38 percent. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune survey of 639 adults, conducted Monday, found 98 percent of Minnesotans recognized Mr. Mondale's name, and 66 percent rated him favorably. The poll had a margin of error of four points.


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