Today in the state Capitol rotunda, where Minnesotans recently held a spontaneous vigil to mourn the death of Sen. Paul D. Wellstone (D), the Republican who will replace him basked in victory, promising to make even those who supported other candidates proud to call him senator.
Norm Coleman narrowly defeated veteran Democrat and former vice president Walter F. Mondale, who was drafted by his party after Wellstone died in an Oct. 25 plane crash with his wife, daughter, three campaign aides and two pilots.
Coleman had traversed the state for two years, depicting Wellstone as a maverick liberal who couldn't deliver for the state. He switched gears when Democrats snatched Mondale, 74, from retirement to replace Wellstone on the ballot. In the five-day campaign that ensued, Coleman, 53, presented Mondale as a relic of the past who had done good things for the state but whose time had passed.
In the truncated campaign's only debate, the two tangled in a feisty exchange in which Mondale said Coleman would be a pawn of President Bush and the "right wing" crowd. Coleman, while maintaining a respectful tone, reminded voters of the double-digit inflation and long lines at gas pumps that punctuated the Carter-Mondale administration.
Both men set aside those differences today. "The U.S. Senate is the best job in America, and I think he will love it," Mondale told supporters from the same St. Paul hotel where he conceded to Ronald Reagan in the 1984 presidential race. "This has been one of the most unbelievable moments in Minnesota history. To begin a campaign in the saddest of moments and then have but one week to seek this extraordinary challenge. It was wonderful. . . . It was electric."
Coleman was gracious as well. "Walter Mondale is one of the greatest Minnesotans of the 20th century," he told hundreds of adoring supporters. "We all honor his sense of duty and skill of statesmanship. . . . I know that I have a lot of growing to do in the shoes I now stand in."
Coleman, a former Democrat and St. Paul mayor, reached out to Wellstone supporters, saying he would work hard to ensure that no one felt disenfranchised. But he also signaled he will continue to stand for issues that distinguished him from Wellstone and Mondale.
He said he is proud of his close relationship with the president, and would solidly back Bush's policy against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Coleman praised the president's tax cuts and said he is eager to see the confirmation of GOP judicial nominees, many of whom have been blocked by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Until Tuesday, Minnesota voters had never rejected Mondale. Every time his name was on the ballot, they voted for him to be state attorney general, U.S. senator, vice president and president. When every other state went for Ronald Reagan in 1984, Minnesota gave him a slim but face-saving victory. Today he bade farewell to public life.
"I love Minnesota," Mondale said. "And in what is obviously my last campaign, you always treated me decently. . . . You always listened to me. I am so proud of this state and of its people."