Battle for the Senate

Former Vice President Walter Mondale and former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman vie for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
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FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Five days after their standard-bearer died in a plane crash, Minnesota Democrats at an 11th hour convention named their elder statesman to take on the mantle.

SPOKESMAN: It is our honor and pleased to place in nomination, Walter F. Mondale for the United States Senate.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In six days, Walter Mondale hopes to return to a chamber he served for 12 years before leaving in 1976 to become Jimmy Carter’s Vice President. He officially returned to active politics with an acceptance speech before a crowd of 800 party faithful, including many Paul Wellstone campaign workers.

WALTER MONDALE: When Paul was first sworn in as Senator, he asked me to walk down the Senate aisle with him to present his credentials. A decade later, under awful circumstances, his son, David Wellstone, told me that his family wanted me to carry on for him. And when Joan and I talked it over, we knew we had to do it, and we knew we wanted to do it.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: As mourners continued to visit the impromptu memorial to Senator Wellstone, his wife, daughter and five others lost in last Friday’s crash, Mondale said he’d set a new tone in what had been a hard-fought, often bitter race.

WALTER MONDALE: If there was ever a time to put aside political dog fighting, now is the time. (Applause) We need to honor what the people of our state are going through. We need time to heal, and my campaign must help in that healing.

COLEMAN CAMPAIGN COMMERCIAL: Today, all of Minnesota grieves. The prayers of Laurie and I go out to the families of Paul and Sheila and Marsha and all those who lost loved ones.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Republican Norm Coleman echoed the theme as he aired his first commercials since the crash.

NORM COLEMAN COMMERCIAL: This election is about hope, and opportunity, about jobs; it’s about quality education for our kids; it’s about taking care of our parents and grandparents; it’s about changing the tone in Washington.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The tone of the campaign changed markedly on Tuesday at a memorial service planned by the Wellstone family to honor those killed in the crash. Republicans say it turned into a political rally and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, in particular, was criticized.

SEN. TOM HARKIN: Keep standing up. Keep fighting. Keep saying yes to justice, to hope for people, for Paul! For Paul!

SPOKESMAN: I’d like to make an announcement so that there is no confusion, all right? This is a political rally. ( Cheers )

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Last night, Republican Party Chairman Ron Erbensteiner accused the Democrats of abusing the memorial event.

ROB EBENSTEINER, Minnesota Republican Party Chair: People here were expecting a memorial service for Senator Paul Wellstone; instead it was a planned political rally.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: You say planned?

ROB EBENSTEINER: Planned political rally.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But his Democratic counterpart, Mike Erlandson, insisted the event was not planned as a political rally.

MIKE ERLANDSON, Minnesota Democratic Party Chair: You know, we regret if people felt that was a political rally – it wasn’t. It was a memorial service for as popular a politician as the state of Minnesota has ever seen. It was particularly amongst working men and women who were there en mass and grieving deeply.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In his re-launched campaign Norm Coleman told the St. Paul rally that he was in touch with the needs of everyday Minnesotans having campaigned hard for two years.

NORM COLEMAN: Americans and Minnesotans we work. No one by the way, no one gives you anything. It’s not by entitlement in this state. This is not about holding a place. This is not about national party politics. This is about working, working for the people of Minnesota, for their future.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Coleman admitted the campaign’s unusual circumstances have left a lot of uncertainty.

NORM COLEMAN: I guess two concerns honestly. One is that you run against a famous name, somebody who is part of Minnesota history. I think it’s balanced by my firm belief that people are looking to the future. And secondly, that we sort out the deep emotional pain. I don’t know where that goes. I can’t measure that. In the end we have to get back to work.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In a very tight race both sides are battling over absentee ballots before Minnesota’s Supreme Court. Late today the court ordered local election officials to send out new absentee ballots to people who asked to change their vote in the wake of Senator Wellstone’s death.

SPOKESMAN: None of us here control the matter of luck.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: As lawyers for both parties argued this morning, Mondale began making his case at a news conference reacquainting himself with a new generation of Minnesota voters.

WALTER MONDALE: And there’s a lot to do and in an almost weird way no time within which to do it. I want to hear from Minnesotans, and you want them to hear from me about how I see our future and how we have to deal with it.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: With just five days to go, both Mondale and Coleman say the race is as much against time as each other. As Democrats hope to prevail with the blue chip Minnesota political name, Republicans are hoping for a boost from President Bush who will visit this weekend.