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Wellstone death complicates Senate battle

Democrats eye Mondale as replacement

Wellstone, center, flanked by Sen. Paul Sarbanes, left, and Sen. Edward Kennedy, during a news conference two weeks ago.
Wellstone, center, flanked by Sen. Paul Sarbanes, left, and Sen. Edward Kennedy, during a news conference two weeks ago.

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PAUL WELLSTONE
Born: July 21, 1944, Arlington, Virginia
Parents: Leon and Minnie Wellstone, Russian immigrants
Wife: Sheila Ison Wellstone
Children: David, Marcia, Mark
Career: Minnesota U.S. Senator, starting 1991; associate professor, political science, 1969-1990
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President Bush comments on the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone (October 25)
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Former U.S.Vice President Walter Mondale pays tribute to the late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone (October 25)
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Sen. Paul Wellstone's chief of staff announces the senator died in a plane crash (October 25)
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ST. PAUL, Minnesota (CNN) -- The unexpected death of Sen. Paul Wellstone in a plane crash Friday has major implications on who will control the closely divided Senate, where his Democratic party clings to power by a single vote.

Minnesota law allows Democratic officials to replace Wellstone on November's election ballot. Late Friday, national and Minnesota Democratic sources said party and labor officials would reach out to Walter Mondale, the former vice president and senator from Minnesota, about replacing Wellstone on the ballot.

But the vacancy question may be complicated by the fact that Gov. Jesse Ventura is empowered to appoint a successor to fill the seat until the November election.

At a news conference Friday afternoon, Ventura, a political independent, declined to say whether he would appoint another senator or who it would be, other than to say he would not appoint himself.

"It's not the time or the place to be making that decision," he said.

Should Ventura appoint another senator, he or she would serve only briefly because, under state law, whoever is elected on November 5 would take office immediately.

That means if the Republican candidate, Norm Coleman, wins, Republicans could take control of the Senate during an expected "lame duck" session after the election, before the next Congress convenes.

The GOP could also gain "lame duck" control if Republican challenger Jim Talent defeats Missouri Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan on November 5. That race is actually a special election for the remaining four years of the term of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan, who died in a plane crash days before the election two years ago, and under Missouri law the winner will assume the post immediately after the election.

If a candidate dies more than four days before an election, Minnesota law allows his party to change candidates on the ballot. At the time of his death, Wellstone was in a close race against Coleman, the former mayor of St. Paul and President Bush's choice to take on the two-term incumbent.

Wellstone was considered one of the Democrats' most endangered incumbents and had been one of the GOP's major targets in its quest to take back control of the Senate.

Currently, the Democrats hold 50 seats, and the Republicans 49, with one seat held by independent Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, who caucuses with the Democrats after leaving the GOP last year.

The charismatic Wellstone, who had multiple sclerosis but was not incapacitated by it, was a champion of health-care coverage expansion, veterans affairs and environmental concerns, and was one of the Senate's most liberal members.

Wellstone served on the Senate's Foreign Relations, Veterans Affairs and Indian Affairs committees.

Green Party candidate Ray Tricomo and Independence Party candidate Jim Moore are also in the race for Wellstone's seat, but the Wellstone-Coleman match-up was the main event. Wellstone, who had trailed in the race early in the campaign, had recently taken a modest lead, according to polls.

--CNN Senior Correspondent Brooks Jackson contributed to this report



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