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Eight Killed in Minnesota Plane Crash

Aired October 25, 2002 - 13:32   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I think Jeff Greenfield is joining us now from New York.
Jeff, you've been covering this campaign. You've met and you've known, as all of us have, Senator Wellstone for many, many years. This has been a very, very bitter campaign in Minnesota.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Well, I was just there, Wolf. I was up there Tuesday and Wednesday, attended a debate in St. Cloud. We did a brief interview with Senator Wellstone, which we're looking at now. Paul Wellstone is one of the more unusual members of the Senate. He was a college professor, an activist, a protester against the war, against various corporate misdeeds. He was elected in 1990 in a surprising race. He put on some very, I guess you'd call them, quirky commercials. He kind of made light of his own lack of charisma.

He said to me at the end of the debate -- at the end of the interview I did with him on Tuesday, he said -- I said to him, isn't it unusual that it would take a state like Minnesota to send you to the Senate? He said, with my looks, I can get elected anywhere. He had -- has, I hope, a very puckish sense of humor.

This race in Minnesota is and has been close all the way through. Former mayor of St. Paul Norman Coleman, a Democrat turned Republican, was giving Wellstone a real run for his money. The latest polls put Wellstone up with about a five-point lead, which in statistical terms means the race is just about a dead heat. I believe there was a debate scheduled for tonight between senator Coleman and former -- Senator Wellstone and Former Mayor Coleman.

It's way too early. I'm sure everyone is keeping his or her fingers crossed that this is not a fatality involving Senator Wellstone. In due time, we will address the astonishing potential political implications of this in a year when the Senate is Democratic by one vote. I mean, it sounds cold-blooded, but you know that among the political community, Wolf, that's among the things that people will be talking about. That's what I can tell you so far. He...

BLITZER: All right. Jeff Greenfield, stand by. I just want to bring our viewers up to date. The Associated Press is now reporting that all eight people aboard that small king airplane have now been -- are now reported to be dead. According to a Transportation Department official, a plane chartered by Senator Paul Wellstone, the Democratic senator from Minnesota.

Once again, we want to be very precise, the plane was chartered by Senator Wellstone, but we do not know whether Senator Wellstone was aboard that plane or not aboard that plane. We have learned now from the Associated Press, according to a Transportation Department official, that all eight people aboard the plane that crashed are now dead, in Eveleth, Minnesota, the plane, the small plane was involved.

CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider knows Senator Wellstone quite well, knows the race that's unfolding in Minnesota quite well as well. I want to bring him in. Talk to us a little bit more, bill, about this race, the Wellstone-Coleman race.

SEN. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: This is, as Jeff just said, probably one of the two or three closest political races involving an incumbent in the entire country. Wellstone is, by my reckoning, the most liberal member of the United States Senate. He's a Democrat, got elected on a kind of quirky campaign in 1990, was re-elected. A lot of people expected he couldn't be reelected. But he did get reelected, and now he's up again.

This is very close. His opponent, Norm Coleman, former mayor of St. Paul, is running a very tough campaign in which the war in Iraq is one of the central issues. This campaign is a test case for whether -- how the war is going to play as a political issue in this important state. Wellstone voted against the resolution that would have authorized the president, President Bush, to use force in Iraq. His opponent has made that an issue in the campaign, has run ads against Senator Wellstone, saying that he's weak on security and national defense, and in Minnesota, of course, that's a state that historically has had a big isolationist vote, and one has to ask whether the issue may help Senator Wellstone, because there's a lot of anxiety there about the United States going to war. So this was kind of a test case for that issue.

BLITZER: All right. I want to just bring back John King in a moment, and our other reporters.

But, Bill, talk a little bit about Senator Wellstone, the man. He's got an unusual personality, a very lively personality, and he's a lot of fun to be with, because of the nature of his very excited being.

SCHNEIDER: that's right. He is -- he ran with ads that...

BLITZER: Hold on one second, Bill Schneider, I want you to stand by. Sorry to interrupt you, but John King is in Crawford, Texas, has some more details.

John, tell us what you have.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I am told by senior government officials that the investigators on the scene have reported back that there are fatalities in this crash. They cannot answer the question for us as to whether there are any survivors, but we are being told that the investigators first on the scene are reporting back that there are fatalities. We also are told by senior government officials that Senator Paul Wellstone was indeed manifested on the plane, meaning he was supposed to be, and is listed as a passenger on the plane. We do not have confirmation as yet that he was on the plane, but certainly any pilot is required to file a report, a list of the passengers scheduled to be on the flight, and we are told that Senator Paul Wellstone, Democrat of Minnesota, is manifested as a passenger on the plane that has crashed in his home state.


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