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Senator Paul Wellstone Dies in Plane Crash

Aired October 25, 2002 - 15:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I just want to recap for our viewers who may just be joining us right now. TALKBACK LIVE will not be seen this hour because of the death of Senator Paul Wellstone, the Democratic senator from Minnesota. He was aboard a small plane that was flying from Duluth to Eveleth, Minnesota, got caught up in some freezing rain, bad snow, and, as a result, that plane crash killing the senator, his wife, Sheila, their daughter, Marcia, three staff members, both pilots.
Senator Wellstone and his wife, Sheila, leave two sons, David and Mark, and six grandchildren. Flags here in Washington on Capitol Hill, as you can see here, as well as over at the White House, already have been lowered in honor of Senator Wellstone. And the entire capital, indeed much of the nation, people in Minnesota are grieving right now.

I want to bring in Royal Da of our affiliate KBJR in Minnesota, who is going to give us some details about the reaction over there -- Royal.


Crews are on the scene. They are having a very difficult time getting to the crash site because the plane did go down in a wooded area, I am told. And it's an extremely swampy area as well. They're using all-terrain vehicles to get into that crash site. I did speak with one of the airport employees. He described the scene as something he had ever seen before.

He said, when he did approach the crash site, he saw two large sections of flames. He said that the tail of the plane was still intact. Now, as far as the area surrounding this crash site, all roads are blocked off. The Red Cross has been responded. There are fire crews here, sheriff departments, rescue workers, police, all trying to make their way through to this crash site and try to get some more answers.

Now, I can tell you that the weather here is poor. It is drizzling right now and has been drizzling all morning. So it's cold. It's wet. And right now, we still do not know if this poor weather had anything to do with that plane going down.

Now, the media...

BLITZER: The plane was approaching the airport in Eveleth as it encountered the freezing rain and some snow. From what you're hearing, is that right? DA: Yes, that is correct. The plane went down about two miles southeast of the Eveleth Airport. So we still have no confirmed reports if it was entirely the weather that had something to do with that plane going down.

Now, right now, the media is waiting for a press conference to begin. Someone from the senator's campaign is going to make a statement. I did speak with a few of them. They are just in shock this morning, dealing with this tragedy. They describe the senator as one man who always fought for the little guy, a pure liberal who will be truly missed.

So, as soon as we get a statement from them and some more information, we'll have that ready for you.

BLITZER: All right, Royal Da, before I let you go, do you know if the plane was landing from the east or from the West?

DA: At this point, we have no idea. We're still waiting for officials to gather that information and release it to media.

BLITZER: Royal Da, of our affiliate KBJR, thanks.

And, of course, we will have continuing coverage from the crash site once that news conference begins. We're also standing by at the bottom of the hour. We're told that Minnesota's governor, Jesse Ventura, will also be speaking with reporters. We'll attempt to bring that to our viewers live as well.

Judy Woodruff is covering the political scene in New Hampshire. She's joining us now once again.

Judy, as you take a look at the political fallout from this very sad, sad moment, it could be significant, given the fact that there is only one seat that separates the Democrats and the Republicans as far as the majority in the U.S. Senate is concerned.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: No question, Wolf. We are looking right now at at least six, some would say eight or more very close Senate races across the country, every one of them important because of the balance in the Senate.

And we know the reason that is so important, is, you have a Republican president in the White House, a Republican-controlled House of Representatives. And if the Senate were to go from Democratic to Republican control, it would mean President Bush would have a much easier time getting his programs through. Of course, that's meaningful for both political parties.

But none of these races was being watched any more closely, it's fair to say, than the contest between the incumbent, Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, and his Republican challenger, Norm Coleman.

And you just mentioned, Wolf, the governor of Minnesota, the independent governor of Minnesota -- independent in so many ways -- Jesse Ventura, doesn't belong to either party, has announced recently he is not running for reelection. So you also have a spirited, closely fought contest for governor in the state.

A lot of speculation already -- even as all of us are mourning the life of this public servant who gave so much to the well-being, not only of his state, but of the country, already speculation about how the state of Minnesota is going to handle this sudden tragedy, this sudden vacancy. It was only in 1990 that you had a Republican candidate for governor in Minnesota named Jon Grunseth drop out of the race just a short time before the campaign.

Another Republican was put in, a man named Arne Carlson. He went on to win. Then, after that, there was some clarification in the law in the state of Minnesota. It was determined that, yes, the political party has the right to tap someone. Now, so that law is in effect. The difference, though, is that, in this instance, we're so close to the election. Absentee ballots have already been sent in, have been mailed in and received. Some of those ballots, one would assume, are going to have the name of Paul Wellstone on them.

The other matter to be resolved is, if you were to turn to a situation as we had in the state of Missouri just two years ago, when Mel Carnahan was killed in a plane crash just three weeks before the election, his wife, Jean, stepped in, became the candidate, the nominee after the election, took his place. You don't have a natural stand-in in the state of Minnesota in the same way. And you don't know whether the governor, Jesse Ventura, would be willing to go along with that or what idea he has.

That's the reason we will all be watching that news conference at 3:30 Eastern time very closely. I believe we said 3:30. I'm listening from here in Manchester, New Hampshire. And some of the audio has been -- the audio has been going in and out. So I want you to correct me if I'm wrong.

But, Wolf, the statements are coming in from across the political spectrum. Mel Carnahan's widow, now the senator from Missouri, Jean Carnahan, has issued a statement, full of irony, because she herself lost her husband in exact similar circumstances two years ago.

She said, "Today's crash in Minnesota is heartbreaking news for the families of those who lost their lives, for the people of Minnesota and for the nation." Jean Carnahan goes on to say: "My heart goes out to the family of Paul and Sheila Wellstone and the others who have been lost today. Senator Wellstone was a champion for the working men and women of our country. He always spoke from his heart and stayed true to his beliefs. A proud and passionate voice for working people has been silenced today. I will miss him greatly" -- that the statement of Senator Jean Carnahan of Missouri, herself in a contest for reelection, facing Election Day, November the 5th.

We also have a statement from the Senate Republican leader, Trent Lott, who says about Senator Wellstone: "For the people of Minnesota, this is too heartbreaking for words. For the entire United States Senate, this is a death in our family. For all of us, this is a reminder of the dedication of the men and women who serve their country in public office. Our prayers are with Paul Wellstone's family and the people he served." That's a statement from Trent Lott, the Republican senator who heads up the -- who is the minority leader in the United States Senate, speaking not only for himself, not only for Republicans, but speaking for all the members of the United States Congress, no doubt. You know, this is not a day when we think about party politics.

We are talking about a tragedy today in American political life, a man who was very much alive and active and racing across the state. We've learned that he was on his way to a funeral for the father of one of his good friends in Minnesota politics, a state senator, when his small plane went down, the plane carrying Senator Wellstone, his wife, Sheila, their daughter, Marcia, and three staff members of Senator Wellstone, along with two pilots. All eight of them have been lost this day.

I want to correct something that I said not too long ago. And that was we have been told by Senator Ted Kennedy's staff Senator Kennedy had been in Minnesota campaigning with Senator Wellstone. They thought that Senator Kennedy was headed back to Washington. Instead, it turns out, he is still in Minneapolis. And we are expecting to hear from him, perhaps in a news conference in just a few minutes from Senator Kennedy, perhaps former Vice President Walter Mondale, who was, of course, as we know, a candidate for president in 1984.

And we are also, a little later in this half-hour, maybe 20 minutes from now, expecting a news conference from Jesse Ventura, who is the outgoing governor of the state of Minnesota -- a time of not just tragedy personally for this senator, but a tragedy across the political spectrum.

We've talked to Wolf. We've talked to -- you talked to senator Pat Leahy. I spoke with Sam Brownback, a Republican, with Pete Domenici -- or started to speak with Senator Domenici. He was just simply too broken up. He couldn't talk. It's a very, very tough day.

BLITZER: And, Judy, as you look at this death in the Senate, when Senator Lott says this is a death in the family, the U.S. Senate, all 100 members, as you well know, Judy, and as our viewers know as well, that is a very closely knit family. Even though there are hard political differences very often, unlike the House of Representatives, it rarely gets ugly in the U.S. Senate.

WOODRUFF: You're absolutely right, Wolf.

And we've said this, I think, a couple of times this afternoon since we learned about Senator Wellstone's plane. At first, we didn't know if he was on it. We knew it might involve him and some other people in his campaign -- and then, of course, the confirmation that came that he was indeed on it. These are people we cover day in and day out. We in the media, we talk to them on the phone. We see them in person. We talk to their staffs.

They almost become unreal, I think, to many Americans who see them on television, on the floor of the Senate, or out campaigning. But, in fact, they are living, breathing people with families, with children, and, in the case of Senator Wellstone, six grandchildren, who are left now without a grandfather, without a grandmother. Senator Wellstone's wife, Sheila, was killed along with him, and also their daughter.

We also know -- we do know, Wolf, that they left two sons as well, so only underlining the terrible nature of what's happened today.

BLITZER: And our deepest condolences to David and Mark, those two sons, as well as the six grandchildren left behind today.

As Judy said, we're standing by, awaiting some statements from the former vice president, Walter Mondale, the U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, who has been campaigning in Minnesota for Paul Wellstone over the past day or so. We expect to hear from them very soon, as well as the governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura, who will have to make some decisions about the election that is coming up on November 5.

Just a little while ago, President Bush spoke out about the late senator from Minnesota.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our prayers and heartfelt sympathy goes to their sons, their loved ones, their friends and the people of Minnesota. Paul Wellstone was a man of deep convictions. He was a plainspoken fellow who did his best for his state and for his country. May the good lord bless those who grieve.


BLITZER: President Bush speaking about Paul Wellstone only a few moments ago.

Stuart Rothenberg is joining me here in our Washington studio.

Stuart, you knew Senator Wellstone quite well. He was an unusual senator, but despite that very liberal tradition, very well-liked.

STUART ROTHENBERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, we have talked a lot about how he fought for the working class and for kids and for the disadvantaged.

But I think the reason why people found him intriguing, interesting, admired him, was that he was a fighter for the little guy. It wasn't the ideology. Sure, there were lots of people around the country who thought it was great that he was a liberal and liked his approach on international affairs and the economy. But, in Minnesota, that would not have been enough to get him elected and reelected, Wolf.

That's a state that a third Republican, a third Democrat, and a third kind of independent, reformer, outsider. And every election, Paul Wellstone transformed himself from a liberal to what he really was, which was a fighter for the little guy. He took on the establishment. He was a natural guy. I remember the first time I met him. He was running for the Senate against Rudy Boschwitz. I met him over at the Democratic National Committee in a big conference room. I walked in there. And there was this guy who was dressed like Columbo, this college professor. You get used to these slick Washington types. He was not like that at all.

And we sat down and he talked from the heart. And I had to be struck by what a different kind of personality this was for Washington, D.C. And I think people found that appealing. Certainly, the folks back in Minnesota did.

BLITZER: And I remember that 1990 campaign. Rudy Boschwitz, he was a very conservative Republican, Paul Wellstone a liberal Democrat, both Jewish. Boschwitz assumed it was a lock for him. Nobody thought Wellstone was going to win that race.

ROTHENBERG: Wolf, I would even go further. Most people didn't assume it was a race. Boschwitz didn't think it was a race. Boschwitz raised all this money, political action committee money. Senator Wellstone -- Paul Wellstone, at the time, before he was a senator -- had these quirky commercials where he ran around looking for Rudy Boschwitz, not really looking for him, but that was the setup of the piece.

BLITZER: He ignored him, basically, during the whole campaign.

ROTHENBERG: I remember early on, we just said the race was safe for Boschwitz. We thought this was another quirky college professor tilting at windmills. But, little by little, there was a buzz that was created about this guy, that he was a fighter, that he was taking on the entrenched, well-funded opponent. And that's the way he liked it. He liked to run that way.

BLITZER: The voters in Minnesota are not predictable by any means, are they?

ROTHENBERG: No. Think about it. Two years ago, before Rod Grams was defeated for the U.S. Senate for reelection in 2000, the senators were Rod Grams, a very conservative Republican, Paul Wellstone, a very liberal Democrat. And the governor was who? Jesse Ventura. I don't even know how to begin to describe him. This is a quirky state that liked interesting politicians.

Clearly, Paul Wellstone and Rudy Boschwitz they had some issues, because, six years later, Boschwitz waited to take Wellstone on again. And the voters sensed that there was a bit of a grudge match here, and they didn't like that. And Paul Wellstone won rather easily in the rematch.

BLITZER: All right, stand by, Stuart. I want to get back to you.

But our senior White House correspondent, John King, is in Crawford, Texas. He is covering all of this. He originally reported the very sad news that Senator Paul Wellstone, unfortunately, has passed away.

John, what are you hearing right now?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Bush -- as I believe we played some audio to our viewers a short time ago -- has, just moments ago, wrapped up a news conference with the visiting Chinese president, Jiang Zemin -- Mr. Bush offering his condolences, saluting Senator Wellstone as a fighter, as you have been discussing with so many guest today.

The president also saying in his remarks -- quote -- "May the good lord bless those who grieve" -- the Chinese president also saying he heard of the crash, of the death of a United States senator during his meetings with President Bush -- President Jiang of China offering his condolences.

The president was in those meetings with President Jiang when he received the official word that Senator Wellstone had died, along with his wife, his daughter, and three staff members, in that tragic plane crash. Just before those meetings got under way, the president had been told there was a plane crash and Senator Paul Wellstone was believed to be dead -- the White House now, along with other federal agencies, gathering information as to just how this crash took about. But all early indications are weather a lead factor, as they search for clues right now.

I should say, Wolf, also, the two presidents discussing two other pressing issues: agreeing to work together to try to get the North Korean government to give up its nuclear weapons program -- and President Bush sharply critical of an alternative, a compromise resolution put forward, the Russians and the French at the United Nations talking about a version of a new resolution about Iraq -- Mr. Bush saying, for any resolution to be effective, it must clearly spell out there will be consequences -- the president clearly unhappy with the turn, at least the positions of Russia and France at this moment when it comes to the U.N. debate on Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John, stand by. We'll be getting back to you as well.

Once again, for viewers just tuning in, Senator Paul Wellstone dead, killed in a plane crash in Northern Minnesota, together with his wife and his daughter, three staffers, as well as two pilots. We're continuing to cover this story.

Judy Woodruff is with us as well. She's in New Hampshire -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thank you, Wolf.

With us now on the telephone is Senator Diane Feinstein, Democrat of California.

Senator Feinstein, both of you Democrats. You didn't always vote exactly the same way. But, obviously, Senator Wellstone was someone you worked with closely in the Senate. How are you remembering him today?

SEN. DIANE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, the way I remember Paul Wellstone is a man of great heart, light of stature, but big of heart, also with a great intellect.

And he could put the two together. And he would be able to go to the Senate floor spontaneously and talk, and talk to people, and say how he felt. And it always came from the heart. But the background was his intellect. And he was hard-working. I believe he served the people of Minnesota well, the people of America well. And I know both my colleagues, Senator Boxer and I will miss him very, very much.

WOODRUFF: Senator Feinstein, much has been said this afternoon, since we learned about Senator Wellstone's death, about his spirit, his sense of humor. A couple of people have referred to him, including Democratic Senator Pat Leahy, as another happy warrior in the tradition of Hubert Humphrey.

What about that side of him?

FEINSTEIN: Yes, he really was a happy warrior. As a matter of fact, the first time I met him was at a dinner in Minneapolis. And I was there with Vice President Mondale. And Paul was there. And it was the Hubert Humphrey dinner. And so I think that's a good comparison.

I think he was determined to call the shots as he saw them. He said, "You can think of me what you will, but this is how I feel." And I think people respected him for that. I think that's the interesting thing. If you stand for what you believe, people respect it. And Paul was one of those men.

And it's a double tragedy, because Sheila was very close to her husband. And, most likely, she would have taken his place. But, in this case, that's not possible. So it's a kind of double loss, in a sense.

WOODRUFF: No question. No question, Senator Feinstein.

You mentioned the courage of his conviction. What about his vote just a few weeks ago to oppose the resolution supported by the White House to go to war with Iraq? For him, how courageous a vote was that, considering the close contest that he was in for reelection this year?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I can tell you this, without breaking the confidentiality of our caucus. Paul just wanted the vote made. He said: "I'm going to vote the way I vote. Let's just get it over with." He said: "I want to just get it over with. I can get back to Minnesota and campaign."

It made no difference. He was going to do what he thought was right. And the campaign would be however it would be. But he was going to cast the vote. It was a vote of conscience. It was a vote of principle for him. And that was the way he saw it. Everybody respects that. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALTER MONDALE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... I've ever known. He had a very good mind.


WOODRUFF: We're listening to former Vice President Walter Mondale, speaking just now in Minnesota.


MONDALE: And he served what he believed in, no matter what the challenge.

He also had a great heart. And he fought all of those years, right up until this morning, to help change this country and protect the decent spirit of our nation. And he had something else. He had his wife, Sheila. And, together they made one of the most impressive public couples in America. They had a wonderful family. And, together, they helped this state and all of us so much.

I think, if Paul were here, he'd want us to think about one thing. And that is to carry on the fight that he led with such brilliance and courage over all of these years.

And, Paul and Sheila, we intend to do that.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: All of us who knew Paul Wellstone, Sheila, Marcia, are devastated today.

Paul Wellstone had a passion for the good things for people. And he expressed it brilliantly on the floor of the United States Senate and here in Minnesota. He was a man of enormous ability. But, most of all, he was a caring person. He was really a special person, a very unique man.

And I think, as has been said, all of us admired this fight. We admired him in many fights, but we admired this fight. He was coming to the people of Minnesota that he loved. And he wanted their support, so he could go and return to the United States Senate and fight for them.

We'll miss you, Paul. And we'll never forget you.


WOODRUFF: Those words spoken just a short time ago by Senator Edward Kennedy, who was just yesterday campaigning in Minnesota with Senator Wellstone, and also by former Vice President Walter Mondale. Of course, he also served in the United States Senate from Minnesota. Both of these men knew Paul Wellstone very well.

And, Wolf, we keep hearing the word "passion" come back. This was somebody who cared about these -- it wasn't just an issue to Paul Wellstone. Whether it was mental illness or a trade matter, whatever it was, he cared. And that's what we keep hearing from these people who knew him best.

BLITZER: Across the political spectrum, indeed, Judy. Thanks very much. Stand by. We're going to get back to you. We know there will be a full hour of coverage at the top of the hour on INSIDE POLITICS as well.

Stuart Rothenberg is still with me here in our Washington bureau, our political analyst.

Stuart, when Senator Kennedy and Senator Mondale, Vice President Mondale, speak out, it reminds all of us who remember Minnesota politics of the legacy of Hubert Humphrey as well, which played such a significant role in the life of Senator Wellstone.

ROTHENBERG: Absolutely.

But, Wolf, this is a different Minnesota than it was 20, 30, 40 years ago, when you had Gene McCarthy and Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale. This is a state that has evolved, so that it is now not just the liberal Democratic state that, if there was one state that would go for a Democratic president, it would be Minnesota.

Minnesota is much more of a swing state, with about a third Republican, a third Democrat, and a third reform or independent. And it's probably worth noting -- here we had Senator Kennedy and Vice President Mondale. It's probably worth noting that Paul Wellstone was not everybody's cup of tea. And I don't think there is anything wrong with acknowledging that.

Senator Wellstone was, of course, Jewish. And in the yizkor prayer, the Jewish prayer for the dead, there is a mention of hoping to avoid false sentimentality. So, there were people who didn't like him, who disagreed with him.

But what was so interesting about him and important, aside from his ideology, was that he was emotional and he was from the heart and he seemed like a genuine person. Even people who disagreed with him on health care and on abortion and on trade and all these issues understood that he was a fiery guy and admired that aspect of him.

BLITZER: All right, Stuart, stand by.

Jerry Nadler, congressman from New York City, is on the phone with us, the Democrat, also a liberal, someone who knew Senator Wellstone.

Jerry Nadler, what's going through your mind as you try to understand the shock, the tragedy of what has happened today?

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Well, what's going through my mind is what a terrible, terrible loss for the country, what a terrible loss for all the people who knew Paul.

Paul was a man -- I mean, I've heard people say he was passionate. And he certainly was. Paul was a man of great courage. He was the only -- just, what was it, two weeks ago, he was the only senator in a contested race this year who voted against the Iraq resolution. Whether you agreed with him or not, that showed the courage of his convictions.

He was one of the few people you could always depend on to stand up for the little guy against big interest groups. He was leading the opposition in the Senate for the bankruptcy bill, which so many people signed on to. That's another example of that. He's going to be missed. I mean, it's -- I don't know who is going to replace him as the go-to person to stand up for the little guy, to remind people of what this is all about.

BLITZER: And, Jerry Nadler, as you know and as our viewers know, he literally was a little guy. He was short in stature, but he was very passionate, very fiery, very outspoken on all the issues close to his heart.

NADLER: Well, he certainly was that. He was a fiery speaker, a great orator. But he was someone who would not shrink from a fight when he thought that someone needed defending or when people's interests needed defending. You don't have too many people like that in politics today.

BLITZER: Jerry Nadler, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us on this sad day, these sad times.

And we are standing by. We expect to hear from the governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura. Soon, he's going to be making a statement on the death of Senator Paul Wellstone.

Stuart Rothenberg, Senator Wellstone and Governor Ventura have had their share of political problems and disputes over these years.

ROTHENBERG: Strong personalities. And that's the way it is in politics, Wolf.

But, at a time like this, there is always -- some people want to talk about the politics of it. It strikes me that this is more of a personal tragedy than a political tragedy. Sure, it has political ramifications. But this was a man with many years for his family and his friends and his country. And life just ended all too quickly.

BLITZER: Have you been looking into precisely the law in Minnesota, what this means for this election, only 11 days from now?

ROTHENBERG: Well, we've been poking around. Obviously, it's difficult to do too much. And nobody wants to do too much. And nobody wants too much. But apparently there is a window here where the Democrats will be able to select a nominee. And every indication that I have in talking to other people is that the election will go forward. The Democrats will have an opportunity to put a name on the ballot.

What kind of a campaign that person would run, it's hard to imagine. And, indeed, the logistical problems. I mean ballots have been printed up. Absentee ballots are out there. What do you do with something like this? It presents a myriad of questions and problems. BLITZER: Is there a tradition that the governor would name someone to fill in that vacancy even for a short period of time?

ROTHENBERG: Well, I think you would have to look to what happened two years ago with Mel Carnahan when he died tragically.

BLITZER: That was three weeks before the election.

ROTHENBERG: Yes. That was a little longer before the election. But, still, an analogous situation. And what happened there was the governor announced that Mrs. Carnahan had agreed that she would serve out -- that she would serve the term if Mel Carnahan was elected.

Obviously, you have a little different situation here with Mrs. Wellstone dying as well in the plane crash. That would seem to suggest a more traditional politician being put up.

It is a very awkward, almost unseemly situation. Here we are talking about politics and we have an election coming up in 11 days. And we've just had a plane crash. So it's a very difficult situation to handle, I think.

BLITZER: And we almost feel as if it's unseemly even to be talking about the political fallout. But that's one thing we're going to have to come to grips with and deal with even as all of us remember Paul Wellstone, remember his wife, Sheila, and all the others aboard that doomed flight. Thanks, Stuart. Stand with us.

The statements are pouring in, in honor of Senator Wellstone. We just got one from Senator Barbara Boxer, his Democratic colleague from California.

"I am devastated by the death of my dear friend and colleague Paul Wellstone. His passion and commitment for those without a voice will be forever recognized in Senate history. I will miss his powerful voice and his friendship. I will never forget his contribution to the people of this country." Senator Barbara Boxer of California."

We're going to continue our coverage. We're going to stand by for the statement from Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura. More coverage of the death of Senator Paul Wellstone when we come back.


WOODRUFF: I'm Judy Woodruff in Manchester, New Hampshire. We are continuing our live coverage of the death of Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone just hours ago in a plane crash in northern Minnesota. We're going to play for you...


MIKE HATCH, MINNESOTA ATTORNEY GENERAL: We are here today because of a horrific loss and a dazzling legacy. Paul was born to Russian immigrants and raised in Virginia, where he could have in no way fathomed the road ahead. In 1990, Paul and Sheila barrel rolled on to the political scene completely untested. They were brimming over with ideals, and with the help of a dedicated volunteer force, Paul provided the dynamic, courageous, tenacious and caring U.S. Senate candidate that Minnesotans have a long tradition of electing.

On Election Day 1990, Paul Wellstone was the only Senate challenger to unseat an incumbent. Paul and Sheila have proved themselves to be fearless and visionary advocates, to make health care more accessible and affordable, to important workers' protection legislation, to author historic ethics and lobbying reform measures that forever changed how the people's business is done on Capitol Hill.

They were directly responsible for expanding mental health care coverage, for heading bipartisan coalitions to author farm aid bills, for blocking harsh bankruptcy reforms unfair to consumers, and to keep the Arctic National Refuge protected from oil drilling. They secured federal funds for Minnesota schools, toiled tirelessly on behalf of veterans, were leaders in efforts to combat violence against women.

Paul and Sheila's vision were of a just and humane America. I am deeply saddened to lose such good friends. Paul was a great U.S. senator and an honorable man who stood up for the rights of individuals who were often overlooked in the -- OK.

WOODRUFF: Mike Hatch is the Minnesota attorney general, the state attorney general. Statements coming in, pouring in now from across the political landscape from Democrats like Attorney General Hatch, and from Republicans, like Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, who has announced his retirement after this year. I want to read this short statement that CNN has been given from the office of Senator Helms.

The senator says, "Dot Helms and I are deeply saddened by Senator Wellstone's tragic death, along with his dear wife, daughter, staff members and pilots. Despite the marked contrast between Paul's and my views on matters of government and politics, he was my friend and I was his. He unfailingly represented his views eloquently and emphatically. Paul Wellstone was a courageous defender of his beliefs."

Those comments coming from Senator Jesse Helms. Probably you couldn't find two people farther apart from one another on the political spectrum. Senator Helms on the far right, Senator Wellstone on the far left. But, again, underscoring how even in the heat of partisan disagreement, these men were friends. Members of the Senate, members of the House, able to work with one another no matter what their party description.

We've just heard -- we've heard comments this afternoon from Senator Ted Kennedy, Senator Diane Feinstein. We've also heard from Pete Domenici, a Republican from New Mexico and other Republicans, Trent Lott. This is something that has just shaken and shocked the political community this day.

Jeff Greenfield, you've been talking with us throughout this time. You and I have covered politics for some time, Jeff, and it is, I guess, unfortunately at times like this, it almost takes something like this for people to be caught up short and to think about, you know, what this is all about. That it is about issues and so forth but it's also about people who care about public service and about doing something for their country.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN ANALYST: It's one of the, I guess, peculiarities of the calendar at where we are now, that at one and the same time we're thinking of a human being. As I mentioned several times, I was with Paul Wellstone and his wife Sheila three days ago up in Minnesota. They were very close.

She was a key adviser to him. And as you've heard from across the landscape, they were good people. They were not full of themselves. They were sweet, if you can use that word about grown- ups, and I think you can.

And yet, at the same time -- and I realize this is going to sound cold-blooded to some -- it is 11 days before a critical election. And I checked the law. Candy Crowley was quite right in what she said some time ago. There's a very specific provision in the Minnesota law that gives to the major political parties the power to fill a vacancy that occurs with the death of a nominee up to four days before the election. And that would be a week from Friday.

And I promise you that, even as people in Minnesota are in tears, are embracing each other, are recalling these two human beings, these two people, there is already beginning at some level a very clear series of conversations about who is going to replace Paul Wellstone as the Democratic nominee for the United States Senate.

You know, we saw Walter Mondale offering his condolences. Walter Mondale, who served in the United States Senate for Minnesota, former vice president of the United States, former ambassador to Japan, will be 75 years old. You look at someone like Walter Mondale and you think is any Democrat in Minnesota thinking of him.

You look at a man like Albert Page, Jeffrey Toobin suggested him. Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Minnesota, former all-pro with the Minnesota Vikings, the top vote getter on the democratic slate ballot the last time they had an election. Is anyone thinking of him?

And while I realize people are going to say, how can you think of about something at a time like this? The fact is the political calendar is demanding both mourning and political conversations at one and the same time, Judy.

WOODRUFF: That's right, Jeff. The clock is ticking, because this election is just 11 days away and Paul Wellstone's name is on the ballot. Absentee ballots have been sent in already. And even as the Democrats or Governor Ventura are involved in choosing a replacement, the name of Paul Wellstone will still be presumably on the ballot simply because we are so close.

GREENFIELD: No, it is not. That's my point. Under Minnesota law, they've gone through this before. What they will do is designate a replacement and, in most jurisdictions, they will simply have a sticker that they put over Paul Wellstone's name and that's how it worked back in 1990 when the Republicans slotted in a last-minute replacement.

The governor can appoint a replacement for the lame duck session. And my strong guess is he would wait for the election to see who won, then appoint that person. That lame duck session that were last November and December. But it's the Democratic Party in Minnesota that slots the replacement nominee for the next six-year term. Assuming the Democrat...

WOODRUFF: Thanks for clarifying that, Jeff. I was thinking because we are so close to the election, because it's 11 days, there wouldn't be time to do that. But I'm glad you checked on that, because you're right. That law is in place.


WOODRUFF: We are going to take a break now. Thank you, Jeff Greenfield, in New York. We are going to take a break. And when we return, more coverage of the death -- tragic death today of Senator Paul Wellstone in a plane crash in Minnesota. CNN Will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the sad news, the death of Senator Paul Wellstone. He died in a plane crash in northern Minnesota earlier today, together with his wife, Sheila, his daughter, Marcia, three staff members, three members of his staff and two pilots. We've been covering this story. Since then, the President of the United States, George W. Bush, remembered Senator Wellstone just a little while ago.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to welcome the president of China to our ranch and to Texas. I want to start off by saying how sad Laura and I are about the sudden and tragic death of United States Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife, and one of his children, as well as the death of others on that private airplane. Our prayers and heartfelt sympathy goes to their sons, their loved ones, their friends and the people of Minnesota.

Paul Wellstone was a man of deep convictions. He was a plainspoken fellow who did his best for his state and for his country. May the good lord bless those who grieve.


BLITZER: A plain-spoken fellow, indeed. President Bush remembering, paying tribute to Senator Wellstone. The flags have already been lowered here in the nation's capital in honor of Senator Wellstone. Eight lives lost, eight families, eight people remembered, eight people who of course will not be seen or heard from again.

That was a turbo -- twin engine turboprop that went down in northern Minnesota in some bad weather, Miles O'Brien. Talk to us about the potential impact of that freezing rain and snow that we're hearing so much about.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, I'll tell you what, I'd like to show you some software that I use as a pilot when I fly. It's called Flight Soft. It allows you to plan a route and check the weather along the way. And if you take a look at this -- I know it's kind of hard to make this out, and I don't have my telestrator working at the moment.

But if you see in the middle there, that's the trip from the Minneapolis St. Paul area up to the northern part of Minnesota. And, as we zoom in on this, hopefully you'll be able to get a sense of what we're talking about here. This weather report that I captured was just from a few minutes ago, so it's not entirely accurate to the time that was there.

But the weather that is reported at this time indicates the visibility at that airport, where this occurred nearby, is seven miles right now with a ceiling -- meaning that's where the clouds are -- the ceiling is at approximately 400 feet. Now, 400 feet above the ground is critical, because the non-precision instrument approaches, which are allowed to that particular aircraft -- there is one that does allow for a 400-foot ceiling.

It's unclear which particular -- what kind of navigational equipment was on board this aircraft. But, at the very least, right at the bare minimums. There is one thing I want to point out on this chart for you as you look at the Beechcraft king air, made by the Raytheon Company. This is the A-100 model, which can carry upwards of 15 people.

In this case, there were two pilots on board, although there was one pilot rated. But if you take a look also on this chart, going back to that route planning chart I had, you'll see a blue line, which goes right along here. And what that tells you very clearly as a pilot is you are in an area of known icing conditions. And pilots who take off into those conditions need to have satisfactory equipment on board their aircraft to deal with the icing. This particular aircraft, as you look at the model we have here, this is the B-200, a little different version.

Still the twin turboprop, still those twin Pratt & Whitney engines, 850 horsepower each, plenty of power, has what are called boots on the leading edge of the wing that breaks off the ice that can build up there. It has heaters on the propellers, has the ability to clear out ice from the inlets of the engine. It has those boots also on the elevator, which is up here on the top, on the T tail. Of course on the plane that we're talking about, it's down here.

So it's equipped to fly in icing conditions, but if the conditions are just right, there is not enough boots and heaters in the world to keep the ice from building up, drastically reducing the ability for that aircraft to fly. So that is going to be one of the key things that investigators look at as they arrive in the area. There is a team of 13 people from the National Transportation Safety Board. Their departure from Washington is imminent. They'll be on the way, including the acting director, acting chairperson of the NTSB, Carol Carmody among them. Bob Benson (ph) leading the investigation. A well-known crash investigator, very experienced. He will be taking a look at this.

But the fact is that this was an uncontrolled airport, no control tower. This particular aircraft would have been talking to an air traffic controller at Duluth, approach control about 40 nautical miles away, and getting radar guidance to intercept the course, which allows them to fly on their instruments down to the runway.

So it is not unusual to accomplish these sorts of approaches without a control tower. Sounds like you're out there in the middle of nowhere. The fact is they would be talking to a controller following a strictly prescribed course down to the runway. And if at a certain point in time and a certain altitude you don't see the runway, you're supposed to pull up and go away and declare what's called a missed approach.

Obviously, it didn't get that far. Somewhere between the final fixed approach, where they make that final descent in, and the runway threshold, about two miles away, this plane struck the ground. How did it get below the prescribed route? That's the big question.

Was it ice? Was it some sort of pilot error, meaning they dropped below the approach minimums? These are things that will be discussed by the NTSB as they begin this investigation.

The cockpit voice recorder is on this aircraft. We can't say for certainty, but it is in the specifications. And the question is, will they -- is it operative, will it provide some sort of information for these investigators? Among the many things they'll be looking at, as you look at some our early pictures coming in from that northern part of Minnesota.

We're going to take a break. We'll be back with more coverage of this in just a moment. Stay with CNN.


BLITZER: We've been reporting extensively on the death of Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife, his daughter, three staff members, two pilots aboard a small plane that crashed in northern Minnesota. Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, has known Senator Wellstone, has covered his career for many years. As we wrap up this hour and prepare to begin "INSIDE POLITICS," Bill, what's going through your mind as you reflect on the enormity, the shock that we've had all to endure this day?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a shock for all of us. It's a special shock for those of us who remember Paul Wellstone as the voice of his generation.

He was part of the cultural generation of the 1960s that transformed American politics. He was an activist on many fronts, in the Senate on health care issues, on issues of enslavement of young girls sold into sex trade, an activist for populous economic causes. When he was a college professor, I talked to people at Carlton College, where he taught, and they said he was always leading protests against the apartheid regime in South Africa.

He was unreconstructed progressive from the 1960s, unlike, say, Bill Clinton, who, like most politicians, had to make compromises to get his agenda passed. Paul Wellstone, in 1977, complained that the Democratic Party had lost its soul and undertook a journey to replicate where Robert Kennedy went in 1967, in the poorest parts of America, to remind progressive Democrats of their great tradition.

BLITZER: Stuart Rothenberg, Paul Wellstone is one of those anti- war radicals of the '60s who emerged as a mainstream politician in a subsequent life.

ROTHENBERG: He did, Wolf, but he always remembered his roots. And I can recall he was at CNN here probably a year ago or maybe a bit more, before he had actually decided to run for reelection for a third term. Remember he had committed to serve only two terms, so it was quite controversial when he decided to run again.

And we were talking with him about what he might do, and he was a little cagey about whether he would seek another term. And we said, well, what if you didn't run for reelection of the Senate? And he said that he was thinking of forming some sort of grassroots organization to energize and mobilize young people, to get them back interested in politics and the political system with their own idealistic views. So there was someone who was part of the political system but remembered about how important it was getting people in the system.

BLITZER: He thought about running for president in 2000.

ROTHENBERG: He did. He actually made some trips out to Iowa and New Hampshire in 1998, talked about the importance of good jobs and good health care and a good education. The traditional Democratic themes that he was afraid had been getting lost recently in some of the democratic DLC, Democratic Leadership Council moderate rhetoric. But I don't know whether Paul Wellstone ever believed he could win the democratic nomination of the elected president, but I think he liked to go out there and talk about the issues.

BLITZER: Stuart Rothenberg, thanks for joining us. Bill Schneider, thank you for joining us. I know you'll be joining Judy at the top of the hour on "INSIDE POLITICS" as well.

To our viewers out there, it was our sad responsibility to report the death of Senator Wellstone today. He was a good man, someone we all knew and liked and appreciated. He will be sorely missed here in Washington, in Minnesota, and around the country. And our deepest condolences to his family.


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