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Sen. Paul Wellstone, 1944-2002: Less Than Two Weeks Before Election Day, the Populist Democrat From Minnesota Dies with Seven Others in a Plane Crash

October 28, 2002
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We now go to Minnesota where state officials are expecting up to 20,000 people to attend a memorial service for Senator Paul Wellstone, the populist Democrat who died with seven others in a plane crash on Friday.

He died alongside his high school sweetheart and wife of 39 years, Sheila, their daughter Marcia Markuson, three campaign aides and two pilots. Police say their plane crashed in freezing rain in northeastern Minnesota.

Wellstone’s death came less than two weeks before a highly contested election that could affect the balance of power in the Senate. News reports indicate that former Vice President Walter Mondale plans to announce Wednesday he will replace Wellstone on the ballot.

A statement on his website from co-workers reads, "Paul Wellstone was one of a kind. He was a man of principle and conviction, in a world that has too little of either. He was dedicated to helping the little guy, in a business dominated by the big guys. We who had the privilege of working with him hope that he will be remembered as he lived every day: as a champion for people."

Wellstone was one of a kind. As a former college professor who had never held an elected office before, Wellstone’s made an unlikely Senator when he won the 1990 race. He successfully formed a coalition of farmers, union members, laborers and activists.

He was the only Democrat in a tight re-election race that voted against the Iraq war resolution. A decade ago, he challenged President Bush the senior’s Gulf War preparations on their first meeting, prompting Bush Sr. to ask, "who is this chicken-sht*#!?" Wellstone was one of the staunchest opponents of the Star Wars so-called "national missile defense" program and of increased military aid to Colombia.

But after Sept. 11, Wellstone voted for the USA Patriot Act. He also voted for the Defense of Marriage Act.

Wellstone liked to say he represented the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

Tape:

  • Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN), recorded at a recent Minnesota senatorial debate.

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