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Mondale Accepts Call to Run

Minnesota Democratic party selects him to replace Wellstone as its Senate candidate.

October 31, 2002|Richard Simon and Ronald Brownstein | Times Staff Writers

MINNEAPOLIS — Walter F. Mondale, whose crushing defeat in the 1984 presidential campaign inspired a rebellion within the national Democratic Party against traditional liberalism, was chosen unanimously Wednesday night to replace the late Paul Wellstone as the party's Senate nominee.

Even before the meeting of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party began in Minneapolis' Historic State Theatre, most of the delegates were wearing new Mondale campaign buttons, including one that read "Let's win one for Paul."

In less than a minute, Mondale's nomination was ratified by a rousing voice vote, and more than 1,000 party members chanted, "We want Fritz! We want Fritz! We want Fritz!"

A new poll gave Mondale a solid lead over his Republican opponent, Norm Coleman. If elected, not only would the former vice president retain a crucial seat for his party, but his return may stand as the latest refutation of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous declaration, "There are no second acts in American lives."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday November 01, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 9 inches; 338 words Type of Material: Correction
Electoral College -- In a Section A story Thursday, The Times erroneously reported that Democrat Walter F. Mondale suffered the most lopsided Electoral College defeat of any presidential candidate. The most lopsided outcome occurred in 1936, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated Republican Alfred M. Landon, 523 to 8. In the 1984 presidential contest, President Reagan defeated Mondale, 525 to 13.

In 1984, Mondale suffered the most lopsided Electoral College loss of any presidential candidate: He won just his home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia, only 13 electoral votes in all, compared with 525 for Ronald Reagan. Even George S. McGovern did better against Richard Nixon in 1972.

"The irony ... is that the Democratic Party has spent most of the past 18 years trying to exorcise Walter Mondale," said Jack Pitney Jr., a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. "When Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton or Al Gore called themselves a 'different kind of Democrat,' they meant they were different from Mondale. Now Democrats embrace him as passionately as they repudiated him."

Mondale's entry into the race came as Democrats were being criticized for turning a Wellstone memorial service Tuesday night into a political rally.

"I feel used," said Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, an independent who walked out of the service before it ended. "I think the Democrats should be hanging their heads in shame."

Critics complained that one speaker urged the crowd to work for a Democratic victory on Tuesday. And Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) was booed.

The state Republican Party later asked media outlets to offer equal time to the GOP ticket. "I think the Democrats crossed the line last night when their memorial service for Sen. Wellstone turned into a get-out-the-vote rally," said Ron Eibensteiner, state party chairman.

Wellstone campaign manager Jeff Blodgett said he "deeply regretted" if anyone was offended. "Some of these speakers were Wellstone campaign workers caught up in the final days of a campaign -- a tough campaign that we were going to win," he said. "Going on to win this campaign is part of the grieving process for some of them."

Mondale, a 74-year-old political legend, now faces a five-day dash to the election.

"Tonight our campaign begins," he told the cheering crowd Wednesday night. "I start with a pledge to you: I will be your voice, and I will be Paul Wellstone's voice for decency and hope and better lives."

In his first day of campaigning today, Mondale is scheduled to appear on two radio shows, hold a news conference and speak at a town hall meeting at Macalester College in St. Paul.

Wellstone, who died in a plane crash Friday, was locked in one of several tight races that could determine whether Democrats remain in control of the Senate.

Coleman, a former mayor of St. Paul, was back on the stump early Wednesday after suspending his campaign out of respect for Wellstone. He acknowledged that running against Mondale would be a "daunting task."

"But we've been working close to two years here. We've laid out of a vision, how to grow jobs, cut taxes, improve education," Coleman said. "Nobody in Minnesota is handed anything. You work for it. So we're going to do what we have been doing ... and that's simply get out there and work." Coleman also began airing a new TV ad invoking Wellstone's name.

"All of Minnesota grieves," he says in the ad. But "now, I have to ask you to look with me into the future" -- a subtle reference to the expected criticism of Mondale as a representative of the politics of the past.

It would not be the first time that Mondale has been so criticized. In the race for the 1984 Democratic nomination, then-Sen. Gary Hart, Mondale's principal rival, ran on a platform of "new ideas" and denounced Mondale as "a collection of special interests" and a "spokesman from the past."

Mondale's overwhelming loss in that election prompted the formation of the Democratic Leadership Council, an influential organization of party centrists who argued that Democrats could not win back the White House unless they recaptured the center. Eventually that effort flowered in the emergence of Bill Clinton and his "New Democrat" philosophy in the 1992 presidential campaign.

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