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Mondale Gets Back on the Campaign Trail

Former vice president invokes the legacy of the late Paul Wellstone. He also has to introduce himself to a new generation of voters.

November 01, 2002|Richard Simon | Times Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS — On his first full day running to reclaim the Senate seat he last held 26 years ago, former Vice President Walter F. Mondale opened the morning by doing something unusual in this most unusual campaign -- delivering the weather report.

"Clear and 19 degrees at Gunther's grocery store in Elmore," he said at his first stop, a Minneapolis radio station.

He also visited with the late Sen. Paul Wellstone's campaign staff and his two sons and appeared on a college campus, where most students would have been toddlers in 1984, the last time he was on an election ballot. He wrapped up the day by shaking hands with office workers and shoppers near the statue of another Minnesota icon, the hat-tossing television character Mary Richards from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," which was set here.

Mondale's first day on the stump was far less rigorous than that of the Republican candidate, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, who spent the day on a five-city tour. Still, Mondale captured the spotlight. He sounded at times like a history professor, talking about his ill-fated 1984 presidential campaign and referring to Presidents Nixon and Carter. And he sprinkled his comments with references to Wellstone, whom he described as a dear friend and whose causes he pledged to pursue passionately.

Though his public appearances were limited, Mondale's first TV ad began airing across Minnesota.

"I know our state ... and I know the Senate," Mondale says in the ad. "I'll continue Paul's fight for people."

Separately, the United Steel Workers and Service Employees International Union, with 40,000 members in the state, began running a radio ad saying, "There really isn't a better person than Walter Mondale to pick up Paul's banner."

Republicans were contemplating running an ad in the next few days assailing Mondale's record during his years as Jimmy Carter's vice president. The ad pictures Mondale and Carter along with words such as inflation, gas lines and defense cuts.

Mondale was officially chosen by Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party delegates Wednesday to replace Wellstone in the Senate race, one of a handful expected to determine the chamber's balance of power. Wellstone, along with his wife, daughter, three aides and two pilots, died last Friday in the crash of a small plane in northern Minnesota.

Coleman, who was handpicked by President Bush to run for the Senate, hopes to get a big push for his campaign with visits today by Vice President Dick Cheney, Saturday by First Lady Laura Bush and Sunday by the president. The most recent statewide poll showed Mondale with an 8-point lead.

As Mondale hit the campaign trail, the Minnesota Supreme Court ordered that new absentee ballots be sent out to any voters who request them.

Election officials had ruled that any absentee ballots cast for Wellstone would not be counted, a policy that Democratic officials asserted would give an unfair advantage to Coleman. Democratic officials had wanted the court to order new absentee ballots to be sent out to voters, whether or not they requested one.

Mike Erlandson, chairman of the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, said, "This ruling signifies that all Minnesotans have the right to vote, and their vote will count."

Mondale appeared comfortable back on the stump, though he said it was a "strange moment" out of a Shakespearean play for him to lose a friend and find himself on the ballot, with only five days to campaign.

"This is tough on you and it's tough on me," he told students at Macalester College. "This was not my idea. My idea was to elect Paul Wellstone back to the United States Senate. But I think somebody had to carry Paul's torch."

Mondale, long a critic of the corrupting influence of big campaign contributions, seemed relieved about one thing: "I'm not going to make one phone call for money."

Democratic officials say Wellstone's campaign funds cannot be transferred to Mondale, but the state and national parties have about $500,000 available for campaign advertising on his behalf.

The campaign released a letter from Mondale's physician, Dr. Paul Phillips, declaring the 74-year-old candidate, who walks two miles a day, "in excellent health," even though he suffered a blood clot in February that left him with partial vision in his right eye. Mondale received a warm welcome at Macalester, which he attended, though some students said they had to call their parents to find out more about him.

Elizabeth Swaney, 18, a freshman from Oakland, who is registered to vote in Minnesota, said that her parents phoned to tell her: "When you were born, Mondale was running for president. But now you have a chance to vote for him."

Daniel Seburg, 19, a sophomore, said that Mondale seems above partisan politics: "He's very much regarded like a state hero."

With a Wellstone campaign button on his lapel, Mondale said he would have voted as Wellstone did in opposing a resolution, approved by the Senate, authorizing a unilateral U.S. attack against Iraq.

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