MINNEAPOLIS – With only days left before the elections, Minnesotans from all walks of life geared up to continue the legacy of Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died Oct. 25 in a plane crash along with his wife Sheila, daughter Marcia, three campaign workers and two pilots. Called the “soul of the Senate,” Wellstone lived and fought on behalf of “the little fellers not the Rockefellers.”

Wellstone once said, “I don’t think the tobacco companies, or big oil companies, or big insurance companies, the pharmaceutical companies would want me as senator. They already have great representation. It’s the rest of the people that need my representation.”

Wellstone was targeted for defeat by the Bush administration and was in a tight race with Democrat-turned-Republican Norm Coleman, who is in favor of privatizing Social Security and other anti-working families policies.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) told the overflow audience at the Oct. 29 memorial here that when Wellstone took principled votes on war or welfare, “He was the mirror in which we his colleagues looked at ourselves.” He said Wellstone had a bad back “but he had a spine of steel.”

Former Vice President Walter Mondale is expected to accept nomination as Wellstone’s replacement when the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) meets Oct. 30. Immediately following the tremendous memorial service for the Senator and the other victims, the Minnesota Star Tribune reported Mondale having a “statistically significant lead” over Coleman, 47 percent to 39 percent.

Minnesota campaigns were on hold until after the memorial. But the next day campaign workers, labor and other activists were ready to hit the streets and phone banks for other candidates and then, as soon as the DFL announced the replacement, for the Senate race as well.

Michael Kuchta, editor of the St. Paul Area Trades and Labor Assembly newspaper, Union Advocate, told the World, “People are taking it personally. Also they are wanting to do the right thing. They know what Coleman represents.”

A flyer posted in the labor council office lists upcoming door-knocking and get-out-the-vote activities, including a Nov. 4 “Midnight Madness Late Night Lit Drop,” and Nov. 5 “Election Day Knock and Drag.”

Political analysts speculated there could be a “Wellstone factor” in other close Senate races. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), on the campaign trail, said, “I can’t put my finger on what it means or how you can quantify it, but there is so much more energy than there was two or three weeks ago. I think part of the reason for that is that people lament Paul Wellstone’s passing and want to do this in part for him.”

Pollster John Zogby said some Senate races are so close that even a few hundred additional votes from citizens sympathetic to Wellstone’s social justice issues, shocked back into political activism by the tragedy, could mean the difference.

Outside the Wellstone campaign headquarters, a “people’s memorial” to the senator and his wife was growing as was a sign-up sheet for election volunteers. David Olson, a 12-year union bricklayer, voiced his concern about the future and keeping a Democrat in Wellstone’s spot. “Bush is against union labor. We’re all worried,” he said.

Yvonne Leith, a school worker and member of the Dakota Sioux came to pay respect to the Senator and his family. “He was a good friend of the Dakota and all Indian people,” she said. “He represented for us one of our beliefs that ‘we are all related.’ He epitomized that.”

The fighting spirit of Wellstone and Minnesotans will carry on through election day and beyond. In a statement to the press, Ray Waldron, president, Minnesota AFL-CIO said, “There is a hole in our hearts today. For Paul Wellstone, for Sheila, for Marcia for the staff and the families. We are in mourning. But we know the best tribute we can pay to Paul is to keep his values alive. We’ll mourn our dead. And we’ll fight like hell for the living.”

The authors can be reached at talbano@pww.org and suewebb@pww.org

PDF version of ‘Senate battle cry: Keep Wellstone’s legacy alive’

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