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Mondale Is Expected to Run in Place of Wellstone

Former vice president will announce his plans Tuesday. GOP already assailing his record.

October 28, 2002|Janet Hook and Miguel Bustillo | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, responding to emotional pleas from Democrats in Minnesota and around the nation, is expected to replace the late Sen. Paul Wellstone as the Democratic candidate in that state's hotly contested Senate race.

Mondale, who turns 75 in January, has said that he will not announce his plans until after Tuesday's memorial service for Wellstone, who died Friday in a plane crash. But party officials Sunday said they believe Mondale is willing to accept the nomination, which the party is expected to ratify Wednesday. Republicans already are criticizing his record.

"The vice president, I believe, if asked by the party, would be willing to seek the election Nov. 5," Mike Erlandson, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, said at a news conference. "Mr. Mondale is the choice of the Wellstone family. Mr. Mondale is certainly the sentimental choice of many Democrats across the state."

Democratic officials see Mondale, with his years of political experience and household-name status, as their best hope for beating GOP nominee Norm Coleman in the few days left in the campaign. Victory in Minnesota is crucial to Democrats' broader battle to preserve their fragile 51-49 Senate majority.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday October 31, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 13 inches; 494 words Type of Material: Correction
Senate -- A story in Section A Monday on plans to replace the late Sen. Paul Wellstone reported that Democrats had a 51-49 majority in the Senate. Their majority is 50-49; Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont is an independent.

It would be a remarkable twist of political history if Democrats were rescued from losing control of the Senate by the man who led the party to a crushing defeat in the 1984 presidential election, when he lost to Ronald Reagan in a landslide. What's more, Mondale is a paragon of the kind of liberalism that many Democrats -- other than Wellstone -- have tried to move the party away from in the years since he topped their ticket.

A Minnesota Icon

But in Minnesota, old-style liberalism still has great appeal, and Mondale is an icon to many. Mondale, who now practices law and teaches in Minnesota, represented the state in the Senate from the end of 1964, when he was appointed to fill the vacancy left by Hubert H. Humphrey's election as vice president, to 1976, when he himself was elected vice president for one term under Jimmy Carter. In 1984, Mondale became the party's ill-fated presidential nominee, choosing Geraldine Ferraro -- the first woman on a major-party ticket -- as his running mate. President Clinton appointed him U.S. ambassador to Japan in 1993, a position he had until 1996.

"There's such a tremendous reverence for him," Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said Sunday on CBS News' "Face the Nation." "He would be the great unifier, and I think there would be overwhelming support in Minnesota for his candidacy."

Even though Mondale has not officially agreed to enter the race, Republicans began picking apart his record Sunday -- including a famous line in his 1984 speech accepting the presidential nomination when he candidly acknowledged that, as president, he would raise taxes.

"If you want a big tax-increase person with a long history of raising taxes, Walter Mondale's perfect," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "People ought to vote on how [candidates] vote, not the emotions of this week."

The Minnesota race long has been considered pivotal to deciding which party will control the Senate. The GOP targeted Wellstone as one of the Democrats' most vulnerable incumbents. President Bush personally recruited Coleman -- a former mayor of St. Paul and a former Democrat -- to run, and Republicans were increasingly confident that he could win.

Democratic officials have until late Thursday to name a replacement for Wellstone, and the party will convene its 875 delegates Wednesday. State officials said they expect only one name to be put forward -- a clear sign that the party was ready to unite behind Mondale.

Any support for other candidates apparently was put to rest over the weekend when Wellstone's son David, who had been touted by some as a potential candidate, met with Mondale and top members of the Wellstone campaign and personally threw the family's support behind the former vice president.

"The family believes that Sen. Wellstone would be honored to have the vice president consider replacing him in the United States Senate," Erlandson said on ABC's "This Week."

Even after that meeting, Mondale has remained publicly noncommittal. And a friend who has talked with him said he has genuinely stewed over making this move so late in life. But party officials are clearly counting on him to run -- if only because they assume that he would have discouraged speculation if he was not prepared to go along.

One reason that returning to the Senate might be an attractive option, his friends say, is that Mondale has viewed his years there as among the happiest of his career.

"To finish at the place that he loved the best would be wonderful," said Michael Berman, a former top aide to Mondale.

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