Focus is on Mondale

D By Libby George and Andrew Pritchard

dFL Party chairman Mike Erlandson said Sunday morning that the full DFL State Central Committee will meet Tuesday to choose a successor to the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash in northern Minnesota on Friday.

“There has been a great deal of speculation as to who should carry on Senator Wellstone’s legacy,” Erlandson said. “Amidst the flurry of discussion, it is important that we remember there is a process as to how to proceed.”

He added: “Today, I will be contacting the members of the DFL State Central Committee who represent every part of our great state – from Ada to Zumbrota – people from all walks of life. We will assemble on Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. at the Historic State Theatre in downtown Minneapolis on Hennepin Avenue.”

Bill Amberg, DFL Party communications director, said the committee consists of “nearly 1,000 people elected through the grassroots DFL process,” and would likely announce their choice after the meeting Wednesday night.

Although political scientists, analysts and the Wellstone family have unofficially chosen former U.S. Vice President and Sen. Walter Mondale, currently a Minneapolis attorney, as Wellstone’s successor, Erlandson was reluctant to indicate who will be chosen.

“While there is no official nominee at this time Ö obviously the feelings of the family are important to the Democratic Party and we will weigh those heavily as we move toward the meeting Wednesday night,” Erlandson said.

Wellstone’s eldest son David Wellstone made the request for Mondale on Saturday morning in Mondale’s law office, Erlandson said.

While he said other names have circulated, Mondale’s was the most prominent.

“There’s no question that the larger sentiment across the state of Minnesota is for the former Vice President and Senator Mondale,” Erlandson said.

Hy Berman, University history professor and political analyst for KARE 11 news, said Mondale was the only likely choice.

“When I was an analyst for KARE 11, I was the first to mention Mondale, and it quickly picked up,” Berman said.

He said there were other names circulating, but “none of them with the high caliber of accomplishments of a Walter Mondale.”

Both the DFL Party and Berman were confident Mondale would accept.

“I have not talked to Mr. Mondale about the nomination directly, but I have not heard any reason he would not accept,” Erlandson said.

Berman agreed with Erlandson.

“Given the nature of the circumstances I would guess he would accept,” Berman said.

However, for the time being, DFLers are still focused on mourning the loss of Wellstone.

“Our focus is on (the mourning process) until the memorial service is complete on Tuesday,” Erlandson said.

“We need some time before we choose someone to carry on Paul Wellstone’s legacy,” Amberg said.

Mondale returns

eighteen years after he told supporters “history will judge us honorably” and retired from elective politics, Mondale has emerged as the front-runner to return to a U.S. Senate in which he has not held a seat since before the current generation of University students was born.

Mondale, born in Ceylon, Minn., in 1928, managed Hubert Humphrey Jr.’s U.S. Senate campaign in 1948.

Mondale worked in Humphrey’s office after that senator’s election, then earned his bachelor’s degree in political science at the University, served in the Army from 1951-53 and graduated from the University’s Law School in 1956.

Gov. Karl Rolvaag appointed Mondale, then Minnesota’s attorney general, to the Senate in 1964 to fill the seat Humphrey vacated after being elected vice president under Lyndon Johnson.

Mondale was subsequently elected to the Senate in 1966 and 1972 and chaired that body’s Select Committee on Equal Education Opportunity from 1969-72.

He became President Jimmy Carter’s vice president in 1976, carrying the South and urban areas, as well as 57 percent of the vote in his home state in a victory over President Gerald Ford and Sen. Robert Dole.

In the campaign’s post-Watergate environment, one Mondale supporter rallied Minnesota Democrats on election night by parading around DFL headquarters in a Richard Nixon mask, the Daily reported at the time.

Another Mondale backer drew snickers from the campaigners by displaying a large sign reading, “Women love men – Carter and Mondale.”

The race also featured a third-party challenge by Eugene McCarthy, but Daily accounts at the time found strong student support for Mondale.

“I felt like if I voted for McCarthy, I was voting for President Ford,” an unnamed student said.

Mondale’s first presidential bid was defeated in 1980 by Ronald Reagan and future President George H. Bush.

Mondale ran unsuccessfully against Reagan and Bush again in 1984, choosing New York Rep. Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate.

Ferraro was a leading supporter of the defeated Equal Rights Amendment and the first woman to run on a presidential ticket.

“(Mondale) has opened a door which will never be closed again,” she said after the 1984 election.

Mondale retired from public life after that race.

“I am at peace with the knowledge that I gave it everything I’ve got,” he said at the time.

Mondale served as ambassador to Japan from 1993-96 and wrote the book “The Accountability of Power: Toward a More Responsible Presidency.”

The University renamed its law building Mondale Hall in May 2001 to honor its alumnus.

Libby George welcomes comments at [email protected]

Andrew Pritchard welcomes comments at [email protected]