Sen. Paul Wellstone Killed in Plane Crash
Wellstone’s wife, daughter, three campaign staff and two pilots also died when the twin-engine plane went down in a wooded area two miles from the airport.
Authorities said there was freezing rain and light snow near the Eveleth-Virginia Municipal Airport, about 175 miles north of Minneapolis.
Before running for office, Wellstone was a professor and community organizer at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. He was the father of three and grandfather of six.
A campaigner known for his humor and an ancient green bus he crisscrossed the state in, Wellstone stood out as one of the U.S. Senate’s most liberal voices.
“He wasn’t at all interested in the trappings of power… he was there to help people who didn’t have a voice, didn’t have any power,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) told CNN.
Across party lines, political leader expressed their sorrow at the loss.
“Paul Wellstone was a man of deep convictions. He was a plainspoken fellow who did his best for his state and for his country,” President Bush told reporters.
Labor leaders and Democrats called on people to remember the senator as a champion of the underprivileged.
“Senator Paul Wellstone stood up for the little guy, but he never had small thoughts. He was tireless and unapologetic for championing the rights of working men and women — even when he stood alone, and he often did,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said in a statement.
Norm Ornstein, Congressional watcher and Minnesota native, said the state had lost a giant.
“He was a man of enormous integrity and a great public servant,” Ornstein told Minnesota Public Radio. “It was an act of God that suddenly throws our political process into turmoil at the same time.”
The senator was in the midst of a close re-election fight. In February, Wellstone announced he had been diagnosed with a mild form of multiple sclerosis but said it wouldn’t stop his campaign. He also took a political risk, voting against a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.
With 11 days to go before Election Day, polls had Wellstone ahead by some five percentage points over former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.
Coleman spokesman, Ben Whitney, said: “Our prayers are with the Wellstone family. That’s all I’m going to say.”
State law allows the governor to fill a vacant Senate seat, but it also allows a political party to appoint a replacement if a nominee dies. The name must be offered within seven days of the death and at least four days before an election.
In a press conference Friday afternoon, Gov. Jesse Ventura declined to say whether he would name a replacement. He did add that he would not name himself to fill the seat until January.
Democratic party officials said they did not know who they would name to fill the spot.