Questions surround crucial U.S. Senate race

F By Libby George and K.C. Howard

flags at the State Capitol and Capitol Hill flew half-staff Friday as political officials mourned the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., called him “the soul of the Senate.”

Fighting back emotion, employees in state Attorney General Mike Hatch’s office bustled through state statutes Friday, trying to answer the delicate question: who will take Wellstone’s place?

“We are here today because of a horrific loss and a dazzling legacy,” Hatch said. “I have talked to a number of people in Washington in the last hour. The wishes of the family are going to be honored by the political party.”

According to state statutes, the DFL Party must nominate a successor to the Secretary of State’s office before Thursday. County auditors will then blot out the names of Republican Norm Coleman and Wellstone on ballots and create a separate ticket for Coleman and the chosen successor.

Walter Mondale, a former U.S. vice president and senator who is now a Minneapolis attorney, and Alan Page, a former Minnesota Viking who is now on the state Supreme Court, are being considered as replacements.

Absentee ballots, which have already been mailed internationally and nationally, will not include a supplemental ballot. Voters who have not yet sent in the absentee vote can cross Wellstone’s name out and write in his successor. But for those who have already mailed a vote for Wellstone, it will no longer count, whereas votes for Coleman will.

“It does give Mr. Coleman a very tiny edge,” Hatch said.

Wellstone and his wife, Sheila, are survived by two sons.

It will be up to them and Wellstone’s close-knit political campaign family to dictate who the DFL Party will choose as Wellstone’s successor, said Hatch, who is former chairman of the DFL Party.

“Under most circumstances the widow will run,” Hatch said. “But there is a whole staff there. Paul, he had 4,000 people working phones Tuesday to get the vote out. It’s unprecedented.”

Wellstone was the jewel of the Minnesota DFL Party, officials said. But the party received a double blow Friday as the DFL associate chairwoman Mary McEvoy was also killed in the crash.

“There’s no politics. Not today,” party spokesman Bill Amberg said as he prepared for Wellstone’s vigil at the Capitol on Friday night. “Paul was the heart and soul of the DFL Party, and to see a solid Norwegian like Roger Moe, who rarely shows emotion, break down and cry – that’s all there is to say.”

He expected the party to announce Saturday how the successor will be nominated.

Either the 500-person central committee or the 50-person executive committee must nominate the successor.

With only five days before the state’s deadline, understanding the nuances of the nomination process is crucial. The central committee must be given three-days notice before it can meet, but the executive committee can meet at any time.

Wellstone’s rival, Republican Norm Coleman, ceased all further campaign activities Friday, including advertising. He also expressed his condolences for the Wellstone family. Planned events with Karl Rove, Lynne Cheney and Jack Kemp have been cancelled.

“We lost somebody who dedicated their life to serving the people of this state with great passion and great energy,” Coleman said. “My wife and I and my dad were in the same area on the same kind of plane. We were in Grand Rapids when we got the news. We prayed on the plane. We hugged, and the staff cried.”

After Wellstone’s death, fellow congressmen transcended party lines and lauded the senator’s accomplishments saying it was too early to discuss political repercussions.

“I’m in shock, I’m sort of numb,” said Rep. Martin Sabo, D-Minn. “What the political ramifications are, other people will have to figure out at this point.”

Fellow Congressman Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., refused to comment on what will happen next in the Senate race, saying, “That will sort itself out in the coming week and day.”

Moving on

just two years ago in Missouri, Mel Carnahan, the Democratic challenger in a tight Senate race, was also killed in a plane crash shortly before the election. Political scientists from the University of Missouri-St. Louis say the political implications must not be avoided even if it’s difficult.

“People take time to mourn, but they don’t take much time when there is a big election,” said Lana Stein, a University of Missouri political scientist.

She added that picking up where Wellstone left off would be a challenge for both parties.

The first challenge is for the DFL Party to choose a replacement candidate.

“I would assume that whoever it is is going to face a pretty uphill battle,” said Ben Kimball, political science professor at the University of Missouri. “Whoever it is will have to start campaigning from scratch. There was a sort of family continuity. That way people still felt completely comfortable voting for Mel Carnahan.”

“The biggest difference (between Wellstone and Carnahan) is that Wellstone’s wife also died in this crash, so there is no hope of her taking his place,” Kimball said. “There is no obvious successor to take his place Ö that might hurt the sympathy movement.”

He added: “In this case, I don’t know. Someone like Judi Dutcher, maybe one of the Democratic members of the Congress or another statewide Democratic official.”

Stein said the emotional factor of Wellstone’s death might hurt Coleman and affect other statewide races.

“It seemed to me that Ashcroft may have been a little ahead in the polls before Carnahan died,” Stein said. “(Carnahan’s death) galvanized the support so that Mel Carnahan would win the election.”

“It puts Coleman in a tough spot, because he can’t really campaign,” Kimball said.

“Potentially other Democrats might be hurt by lower turnout from core supporters,” Kimball said. “Wellstone’s candidacy was liberal Democrats, who may be left-center and not as likely to vote.”

The Asssociated Press contributed to this report.