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Tone of Wellstone memorial generates anger

Ventura blasts 'political rally'

Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura salutes during the national anthem at the start of the public memorial service.
Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura salutes during the national anthem at the start of the public memorial service.

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MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (CNN) -- The partisan tone of the memorial service for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone stirred anger Wednesday in some Republicans, political consultants and radio talk show hosts who say some of the comments and behavior were inappropriate.

Democrats defended the nature of the service, but they also apologized to anyone who might have been offended.

Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, was booed Tuesday night when he entered Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota for the service. Scattered boos also greeted independent Gov. Jesse Ventura, who Wednesday lashed out at Democrats for what he called a "political rally."

The crowd cheered loudly for former Vice President Walter Mondale, who announced in a letter Wednesday that he would run for Wellstone's seat.

Some Republicans in Minnesota demanded equal time from the local television stations that carried last night's memorial, attended by a crowd of more than 20,000. But officials at local television stations pointed out that they will cover President Bush's expected trip to Minnesota this weekend, when he will campaign for Republican Norm Coleman.

Vin Weber, a former congressman from Minnesota, lambasted Democrats for what he called a "complete, total absolute sham."

"To them, Wellstone's death, apparently, was just another campaign event," he told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Dave Ryan, a radio talk show host in Minneapolis, said the airwaves have been full of talk about the service, which featured speeches from Wellstone family members and friends who urged the crowd to remember Wellstone when they cast their votes next week.

"I guess the local stations here were swamped with phone calls from people who were angry because they had been sold a memorial service that had turned into a political rally," Ryan said in an interview with CNN. "And I really thought that was kind of shameful. I really did."

Democrats, who initially dismissed the criticism, later apologized for some activity, but said the event was unscripted and reflected the strong emotions people felt about Wellstone's death.

"We're sorry if some of the comments went too far in a political direction," Jim Farrell, the former press secretary for Wellstone, told CNN.

"The Republicans in the middle of a memorial service decided to call it politics," said Mike Erlandson, chairman of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, as the Democrats are known in Minnesota. "It wasn't politics; it was Paul Wellstone."

Erlandson called the boos "unfortunate and inappropriate," but said the service was "something that was very emotional."

"While it had a little bit of a rally feel, and they were talking about public policy and public policy issues, that was Senator Wellstone through and through," Erlandson said. "I mean, he did not talk those issues for politics; he talked these issues for passion."

The criticism didn't just come from Republicans.

Ventura, who walked out of the service, said Democrats "should hang their head in shame."

"The first part of it I thought was excellent. When Rick Kahn got up, I left the building halfway through what he was doing," said Ventura, who could appoint an interim senator to take Wellstone's seat until November 5.

"I feel used. I feel violated and duped over the fact that that turned into nothing more than a political rally," he said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, who represented the White House at the service, said the partisan nature of the service did not surprise him, nor did it bother him.

"I was not offended by it, but some other people might be," he said.

--CNN Congressional Correspondent Jonathan Karl contributed to this report.

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