Tumultuous Senate race nears vote

by Libby George

The Minnesota Senate race will end much the way it began – with national attention and close Democratic and Republican competition.

However, former Vice President Walter Mondale became the DFL Party candidate after incumbent Sen. Paul Wellstone’s death, and the landscape of the race was irrevocably changed for all parties.

Republican candidate Norm Coleman and Wellstone began the race neck and neck in the polls after soundly winning their primary nominations with 93 percent of the vote from their respective parties.

Coleman – hand-picked by President George W. Bush’s administration – was the Republican Party’s best hope to regain control of the Senate. Vice President Dick Cheney even personally called Tim Pawlenty, who had planned on running for Senate, to request he seek the gubernatorial nomination instead.

Most polls showed Wellstone with a slim margin over Coleman, but an MSNBC/Zogby poll released Sept. 22, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points, showed Coleman leading Wellstone 47 percent to 41 percent.

The poll also found Independence Party candidate Jim Moore and Green Party candidate Ray Tricomo with 3 percent and 1 percent respectively.

All of that changed with Wellstone’s death.

“In a way, I feel sorry for Norm Coleman,” said Hy Berman, University history professor and political analyst for KARE 11. “When he was up for governor, he ran into a whip named Jesse Ventura. This time he’s running for Senate, and he’s run into the tragedy of a plane crash.”

Mondale, dubbed a “Goliath” by Coleman, served as Minnesota senator from 1964-76 and last ran for office in 1984 in an unsuccessful presidential bid. During the early 1990s, he served as ambassador to Japan under President Bill Clinton and since has practiced law in Minnesota.

All candidates stopped campaigning out of respect for Wellstone immediately following the plane crash that took killed him and seven others, including his wife, daughter and three campaign staffers.

“It’s not about politics right now,” said DFL communications director Bill Amberg.

Dozens of fund-raisers, Get Out the Vote drives and speeches were canceled, and the candidates were forced to restructure their entire strategies.

“It would seem pretty unseemly to run attack ads at this point,” said University of Missouri political science professor David Kimball.