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Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) on Campaign 2000

Free Media
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Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2000; 12:30 p.m. EDT

As Democrats rally around Vice President Gore at their convention in Los Angeles, Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) has been reaching out to independent voters at the Shadow Convention down the street. Wellstone, one of the more liberal members of the Senate and a supporter of former senator Bill Bradley's presidential bid, has said he doesn't always agree with his more moderate colleague and vice presidential candidate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), but that he has great respect for him.

What are the issues that are being discussed at the Shadow Conventions in both L.A. and Philadelphia? How can either party reach out to the growing number of independent voters, while retaining strong support from their base? Wellstone was live online on Wednesday, Aug. 16. The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Free Media: Good afternoon, Sen. Wellstone, and welcome. You supported former senator Bill Bradley during the primaries, and you've spoken here at the Shadow Convention. What's your feeling about the Democratic presidential ticket and this convention? Do you feel that Sen. Lieberman helps Vice President Gore?

Sen. Paul Wellstone: I think that Sen. Lieberman helps Al Gore and the Democrats in one very important way and not in another. To the extent that Joe Lieberman links his spirituality to his conduct in public office, the fact that he's an observant Jew is a plus. People in the country really yearn for people in office they can trust, and who they can believe in and who live their values. I think that's Joe's great strength. Never in my adult lifetime have I seen the American people more focused on just this question -- can we believe in people in public service?

Where he cannot help as much -- there are many people in the country, not just the poor, who don't see all this prosperity connecting to them and their families. For a critical number of people in this country, the issues are still the kitchen table economic issues -- how to earn a decent wage to support your family, to make sure there's health care coverage for you and your loved ones, how to find affordable childcare, how to find affordable housing. In the Midwest, which will be a battleground in this election, how to keep the family farm going. How to make sure that when you retire there's a pension there for you.

Only Al Gore can fill this void. Right now, that's the real challenge. I don't think a lot of people see the Vice President's and the Democrats' agenda working for them.
The swing voter as I see it is not the soccer mom -- every voter is important -- but I think the swing vote is very much the working class vote. That's going to be critically important for Al Gore and the Democrats to win. The challenge specifically will be how many working class people will turn out to vote, and how many will vote Democratic. You've got to have the politics that energizes and empowers people, and I don't think the vice president is there yet. Tippy-toe politics won't win.

St. Cloud, Minn.: Senator, I'm a pro-life Democrat and our state has thousands of Democrats who support the right to life. Knowing this, will you push for more inclusiveness in our party for pro-life Democrats?

Sen. Paul Wellstone: Absolutely. I cannot think of a more important question. I really thank you for the question. I believe that the pro-life position is a powerful moral claim. I think both positions, if held in good faith, are powerful moral claims -- that's what makes this such a difficult question. I strongly support some people in politics and friends who are pro-life, and I refuse to make this a litmus test. It's very important not to deny people who have a position on this their humanity. I think there's been entirely too much intolerance on this question. I mean this as sincerely as I can say it.

Reston, Va.: Sen. Wellstone:

Why did the Democratic Party remove a basic tenet of our faith -- health care is a fundamental right -- from the party platform this year (it was clearly stated in 1992)? Even though politics forces an incremental approach, shouldn't this ideal (could be reality and you know it) at least be included for all to see, that our party believes that all people are created equal and have a right to health? Please help me understand why something so basic was removed from the delineation of our party's belief.

Do you still believe that health is a right, Sen. Wellstone?

Thank you.

Sen. Paul Wellstone: I introduced legislation in the Senate -- along with Tammy Baldwin and Dave Obey in the House -- to provide universal health care. It's a basic part of what our party should stand for is health care for all people. I think the reason that it's been dropped from the platform is that the Democrats have become too timid.

I'm all for incremental change if it makes a real difference in people's lives.

Next time [this issue comes up] we're going to need real grassroots citizen action. The only way this is going to work is if people stand up to members of the Senate and House and say we demand you pass this legislation.

Free Media: That was our last question today for Sen. Paul Wellstone, who is dashing between events. Thanks so much to Sen. Wellstone, and to everyone who joined us.

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