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Mondale Accepts Call to Run

Times Staff Writers

Walter F. Mondale, whose crushing defeat in the 1984 presidential campaign inspired a rebellion within the national Democratic Party against traditional liberalism, was chosen unanimously Wednesday night to replace the late Paul Wellstone as the party’s Senate nominee.

Even before the meeting of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party began in Minneapolis’ Historic State Theatre, most of the delegates were wearing new Mondale campaign buttons, including one that read “Let’s win one for Paul.”

For the record:

12:00 AM, Nov. 01, 2002 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday November 01, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 9 inches; 338 words Type of Material: Correction
Electoral College -- In a Section A story Thursday, The Times erroneously reported that Democrat Walter F. Mondale suffered the most lopsided Electoral College defeat of any presidential candidate. The most lopsided outcome occurred in 1936, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated Republican Alfred M. Landon, 523 to 8. In the 1984 presidential contest, President Reagan defeated Mondale, 525 to 13.

In less than a minute, Mondale’s nomination was ratified by a rousing voice vote, and more than 1,000 party members chanted, “We want Fritz! We want Fritz! We want Fritz!”

A new poll gave Mondale a solid lead over his Republican opponent, Norm Coleman. If elected, not only would the former vice president retain a crucial seat for his party, but his return may stand as the latest refutation of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous declaration, “There are no second acts in American lives.”

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In 1984, Mondale suffered the most lopsided Electoral College loss of any presidential candidate: He won just his home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia, only 13 electoral votes in all, compared with 525 for Ronald Reagan. Even George S. McGovern did better against Richard Nixon in 1972.

“The irony ... is that the Democratic Party has spent most of the past 18 years trying to exorcise Walter Mondale,” said Jack Pitney Jr., a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. “When Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton or Al Gore called themselves a ‘different kind of Democrat,’ they meant they were different from Mondale. Now Democrats embrace him as passionately as they repudiated him.”

Mondale’s entry into the race came as Democrats were being criticized for turning a Wellstone memorial service Tuesday night into a political rally.

“I feel used,” said Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, an independent who walked out of the service before it ended. “I think the Democrats should be hanging their heads in shame.”

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Critics complained that one speaker urged the crowd to work for a Democratic victory on Tuesday. And Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) was booed.

The state Republican Party later asked media outlets to offer equal time to the GOP ticket. “I think the Democrats crossed the line last night when their memorial service for Sen. Wellstone turned into a get-out-the-vote rally,” said Ron Eibensteiner, state party chairman.

Wellstone campaign manager Jeff Blodgett said he “deeply regretted” if anyone was offended. “Some of these speakers were Wellstone campaign workers caught up in the final days of a campaign -- a tough campaign that we were going to win,” he said. “Going on to win this campaign is part of the grieving process for some of them.”

Mondale, a 74-year-old political legend, now faces a five-day dash to the election.

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“Tonight our campaign begins,” he told the cheering crowd Wednesday night. “I start with a pledge to you: I will be your voice, and I will be Paul Wellstone’s voice for decency and hope and better lives.”

In his first day of campaigning today, Mondale is scheduled to appear on two radio shows, hold a news conference and speak at a town hall meeting at Macalester College in St. Paul.

Wellstone, who died in a plane crash Friday, was locked in one of several tight races that could determine whether Democrats remain in control of the Senate.

Coleman, a former mayor of St. Paul, was back on the stump early Wednesday after suspending his campaign out of respect for Wellstone. He acknowledged that running against Mondale would be a “daunting task.”

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“But we’ve been working close to two years here. We’ve laid out of a vision, how to grow jobs, cut taxes, improve education,” Coleman said. “Nobody in Minnesota is handed anything. You work for it. So we’re going to do what we have been doing ... and that’s simply get out there and work.” Coleman also began airing a new TV ad invoking Wellstone’s name.

“All of Minnesota grieves,” he says in the ad. But “now, I have to ask you to look with me into the future” -- a subtle reference to the expected criticism of Mondale as a representative of the politics of the past.

It would not be the first time that Mondale has been so criticized. In the race for the 1984 Democratic nomination, then-Sen. Gary Hart, Mondale’s principal rival, ran on a platform of “new ideas” and denounced Mondale as “a collection of special interests” and a “spokesman from the past.”

Mondale’s overwhelming loss in that election prompted the formation of the Democratic Leadership Council, an influential organization of party centrists who argued that Democrats could not win back the White House unless they recaptured the center. Eventually that effort flowered in the emergence of Bill Clinton and his “New Democrat” philosophy in the 1992 presidential campaign.

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For many Democratic reformers, Mondale -- with his intimate ties to labor unions and other traditional Democratic interest groups, his skepticism of free trade, his identification with big-spending Washington programs -- became a symbol of their efforts to liberate the party.

In fact, Mondale’s thinking was somewhat more nuanced: The central plank of his 1984 general election campaign was a promise to reduce the deficit that had exploded after Reagan’s tax cuts. But in most respects Mondale’s 1984 campaign did represent the last hurrah for a New Deal liberalism built on faith in a paternalistic federal government; every Democratic nominee since has separated himself from that tradition, promising an activist but fiscally responsible and less bureaucratic government.

“The 1984 campaign made it clear that the New Deal paradigm as a formula for political success and governance was played out,” said Bill Galston, Mondale’s issues director in that election and now a professor of public affairs at the University of Maryland. “And every presidential candidacy since has been conducted in one way or another under the shadow of that recognition.”

While Mondale’s return to the arena marks a remarkable personal journey, in another sense it is not unique. Over the last generation, three other defeated presidential candidates have returned to the Senate. Barry Goldwater, repudiated in a landslide defeat as the GOP presidential nominee in 1964, won election to the Senate four years later; Hubert H. Humphrey won reelection to the Senate in 1970, two years after Nixon narrowly beat him for the presidency; and McGovern won reelection two years after his defeat in 1972.

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But none had such a long gap between their race for the White House and their reentry into electoral politics. No defeated presidential candidate has ever tried to return to the political stage after a longer intermission between Act One and Act Two.

“I think Mondale will be an elder statesman, but that can be a significant role,” said Galston. “If he wins, I wouldn’t necessarily expect him to run for reelection at the age of 80 [in 2008]. So this is a prediction: He will feel freer than he ever has in his life ... to vote his conscience without looking over his shoulder. I don’t expect him to be an entirely predictable voice.”

Mondale served as Clinton’s ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1996, where he helped to negotiate trade agreements, a position that has made him more of a supporter of such agreements than Wellstone. He is a partner in the international and corporate practice group of Dorsey & Whitney, Minnesota’s largest law firm, and has served on the boards of BlackRock Funds, an investment management company; Northwest Airlines and UnitedHealth Group.

Mondale, a former state attorney general who was twice elected to the Senate, has remained popular in Minnesota, say political analysts.

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“The 1984 loss tarnished his image, but he remained a son of Minnesota,” said Steven Smith, a political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis. “Since that time, Mondale’s stature among Minnesotans has steadily risen. While ambassador to Japan, he would return to Minnesota from time to time to give a speech or make a media appearance. Each time he was treated as the embodiment of the Humphrey tradition, as a symbol of Minnesota’s place in national and world affairs, and as a model public servant.”

Dan Hofrenning, chairman of the political science department at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, said Coleman’s major criticism of Wellstone was his political leanings made him an outsider in the Senate, so he couldn’t get things done. “Since Mondale was a leader and Senate insider, that argument won’t work anymore,” Hofrenning said.

Arne Carlson, a former Republican governor, told the Fox TV station here that Mondale would need to come across as “both wise and energetic.”

At Wellstone campaign headquarters, where a block-long fence is covered with flowers, handwritten personal recollections, union hats and signs like one reading “Liberal and Proud,” supporters of the late senator welcomed Mondale’s entry.

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Karen Spencer said that Wellstone would have approved of Mondale’s selection . “He’s just the only choice we could have had,” she said. She said she expects Republicans to raise Mondale’s age as an issue.

And if that issue does come up, it would be quite an irony.

During the 1984 presidential campaign, Reagan, then 73, was asked in a debate whether his advancing age was a cause for concern. He answered, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” The opponent: Mondale.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Biography

Name: Walter Frederick Mondale.

Age: 74

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Education: Attended Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.; graduated from University of Minnesota, 1951; graduated from University of Minnesota Law School, 1956.

Experience: Served in Army, 1951-53; admitted to Minnesota bar, 1956; currently practices law in Minneapolis.

Family: Wife, Joan Adams Mondale, married in 1955; three children: Ted, William and Eleanor.

Background: Born Jan. 5, 1928, in Ceylon, Minn., to a Methodist minister and a music teacher.

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Political background: Minnesota attorney general, 1960-64; member, President’s Consumer Advisory Council, 1960-64; U.S. senator, 1964-76; chairman, Select Committee on Equal Education Opportunity, 1969-73; vice president under Jimmy Carter, 1977-81; unsuccessful Democratic nominee for president, 1984; ambassador to Japan, 1993-96. Mondale’s selection of Rep. Geraldine A. Ferraro of New York as his running mate in 1984 made him the first major-party presidential nominee to put a woman on the ticket.

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Source: Associated Press

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Simon reported from Minneapolis; Brownstein from Washington.


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