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Senate Wellstone Killed in Plane Crash

Aired October 25, 2002 - 13:58   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A sad moment, Jeff Greenfield, as you reflect on Paul Wellstone.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Well, as I mentioned a few moments ago, I was up in Minnesota to do a piece for CNN on this very close Senate race, and on Tuesday after a debate in St. Cloud, which is about an hour and a quarter north of Minneapolis/St. Paul, I interviewed Senator Wellstone, his wife, Sheila, by his side, in front of the famous green bus that was his trademark in his 1990 Senate race.

And as you take a look at some little excerpts from this interview, I think you can get a sense of the passion and the emotion that Senator Wellstone brought to his whole political life. We'll take a look now.


SEN. PAUL WELLSTONE (D), MINNESOTA: People have been so respectful. They come up, and even when they don't agree they have been so respectful about that vote. I am blessed -- I sound like a real politician, but I am blessed to be a senator from Minnesota.


GREENFIELD: What about the term limit thing? There are some people who said. that's one thing where...

That's just one example, Wolf. It's a small cut. But the way he talked about his work, the way he talked about how much he loved being a senator, and he could be extremely, as you know, as all of our political reporters know, extremely emotional and passionate about his beliefs, and then he would leaven it with a humorous remark, a self- deprecating remark. There was always a bit of a twinkle in his eye. And so he often, as Candy pointed out, he would be on the losing side of a 98-2 or 99-1 vote, there was also a sense he was not a zealot in the sense that some politicians that we know left and right who bring a kind of humorless also crusade mentality in which the other guy is always evil. I don't think anybody thought that about Paul Wellstone.

He believed in what he believe in. He felt that one of his big political assets was that even when he stood alone, the people of Minnesota, which is after all, a state with a reputation for affection for political mavericks, that they respected that. But he also, I think it's fair to say, just never took himself too seriously.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff. Stand by. We're going to be talking more about the life and times of Senator Paul Wellstone. I remember personally on many occasions, and as our viewers will remember, sometimes you saw him with a beard, other times you saw him clean shaven. Whenever he would see me he would also joke about my beard, how well trimmed it was, and his beard sometimes used to be a little bit scraggly. We used to joke about that. Senator Wellstone, a very, very good man. We're sad to hear and sad to have to report that he and his wife and daughter and others aboard that plane have now died.

John King, who's been reporting on this story from the moment we heard about it, is joining us once again now from Crawford, Texas.

You knew Senator Wellstone quite well, John, didn't you?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not so well personally, Wolf, but certainly have covered him over the years. My most experience with him would date back to the early maneuvering before the last presidential election, when Paul Wellstone was traveling the country, especially Iowa and New Hampshire, the early caucus and primary states, debating himself whether he should get in the race for president.

Certainly he is a leading liberal voice in the Democratic Party. I grew up starting in Massachusetts politics, covering Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Senator Wellstone a protege, if you will, of Senator Kennedy in the Senate, one of the few, the declining numbers now of outspoken liberals in the United States Senate, someone who believed his party has been too timid in recent months in not confronting President Bush, whether the issue be the economy or whether the issue be, and Senator Wellstone voted no, on the resolution authorizing President Bush to use military force against Iraq.

Senator Wellstone one who believes that both parties, but especially his own Democratic Party, had become too timid in recent years, too eager to win the middle, if you will. A great deal of discussion about the great center, the moderate center of American politics.

Senator Wellstone not ever one to shy away from a good fight, even if he knew he would be in the distinct minority.

And I can tell you now, Wolf, from our reporting over the past hour, a great scramble for information now under way at all levels of the government. Senator Wellstone is a Democrat. Officials here with the Republican president scrambling to try to get more information about this.

The president's top liaison to Capitol Hill, I'm told, was out for lunch in Washington. His staff called him. He immediately rushed back to the White House, trying to get information on this.

We do have, as we have been reporting, confirmation now from several government officials that Senator Wellstone, his wife one of his daughters, three campaign staffers, and two crew members, a pilot and one other crew member, not sure whether the other person was a pilot or not, aboard that plane. And I can tell you, amid the tears, Democratic congressional staffers on Capitol Hill trying to get more information and trying to decide what happens now. We are, after all, and it seems crass to even bring this up, but it is a reality, 11 days from Election Day. Senator Wellstone on the ballot. Senator Wellstone killed in a tragic plane crash today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very sad news for all of us. John King in Crawford, Texas, with the president. Thanks very much.


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