WASHINGTON, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- The deaths of Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., his wife, Sheila, and daughter, Marcia, along with several others, have a significant impact on politics in Minnesota and in Washington.
Wellstone was a candidate for re-election in the Nov. 5 election. He was locked in a tight race against former St. Paul, Minn., Mayor Norm Coleman although Wellstone had, since his return to the state for the end of the election campaign activity, begun to open up a lead in public polls.
According to Minnesota state law, the Democrats have the ability to meet and choose a new nominee to replace him.
"A major political party may provide in its governing rules a procedure, including designation of an appropriate committee, to fill vacancies in nomination for all offices elected statewide... . If the vacancy in nomination occurs through the candidate's death or catastrophic illness, the nomination certificate must be filed within seven days after the vacancy in nomination occurs but no later than four days before the general election," state laws dictates.
Coleman, meanwhile, has suspended his campaign, and national GOP political committees are pulling down their ads.
In a Friday afternoon news conference, Minnesota state Attorney General Mike Hatch, a Democrat, said lawyers in his office were working with party officials to examine the relevant documents and to establish the process for a new nominee to be chosen, should the party choose to do so.
The state also planned to print what are called "Official Supplemental Ballots" reflecting the change, and planned to instruct election judges to blot or strike out the section for that race on the regular ballot.
Minnesota law is, unlike that of other states, fairly clear on the subject. The law also provides that any absentee ballots that have already been sent shall be counted -- meaning that any absentee votes that come in for Wellstone will be assigned to him, not the nominee who replaces him.
The political situation in Minnesota is unusual in that the current governor, Jesse Ventura, is an independent who is not seeking re-election. There are three candidates vying to succeed him, independent Tim Penny, Republican Tim Pawlenty and Democrat Richard Moe, who is currently running third in the polls.
The fact that the Democrats in Minnesota do not hold and are not likely to regain the governorship precludes them, in a political sense, from trying to replicate the successful strategy employed by Democrats in Missouri to win a Senate seat in 2000.
That year former Gov. Mel Carnahan, a Democrat, was killed in a plane crash while campaigning for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican John Ashcroft. Marshalling voter sympathies, the Democrats rallied around Carnahan's widow, who the Democrats promised would be appointed to the seat should Gov. Carnahan receive more votes.
They were only able to make that promise because Democrats held and continued to hold the governorship.
If the Democrats want to retain the seat, it appears their best chance is to find a new nominee, preferably one with high name identification for whom the voters can confidently pull the lever.
That leads immediately to speculation that Democrats will chose a member of the Humphrey or Mondale families. Former Vice President Fritz Mondale, who served as a U.S. senator, is one name. His son Ted Mondale, a former state senator and former Democratic candidate for governor, may also be under consideration.
Another name that will surely be mentioned in the short time frame available is former state Attorney General Hubert "Skip" Humphrey, son of the former vice president.
Skip Humphrey previously sought a U.S. Senate seat in 1988, losing to Republican David Durenberger, and finished third in the 1998 race for governor. That race was won by Ventura, who must now weigh his options. Late Friday, Ventura said he would not appoint himself.
In 1976, Minnesota Gov. Wendell Anderson resigned his post, allowing Lt. Gov. Rudy Perpich to become governor. Perpich then appointed Anderson to the seat Walter Mondale had vacated upon his election as Vice President.
Anderson resigned from the Senate in 1978, his political career in ruins.
Wellstone's death also has an impact in Washington. With the vacancy it creates, the U.S. Senate is now composed of 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one independent, Vermont's Jim Jeffords, who votes with the Democrats to organize the chamber.
This means the power in the structure of the Senate will not change before Nov. 5, unless Ventura appoints a Republican to the seat, something early speculation held to be unlikely. After the election is a different matter.
In his press briefing Friday, Hatch suggested the state would consider the Nov. 5 election as both a general and special election, allowing the winner to be seated immediately. Some lawyers suggested that would not be permitted under the U.S. Constitution. If the balance of power in the U.S. Senate rests on whether it is, this fight likely will go to court.
The most likely event, according to several sources familiar with Minnesota politics, is that Ventura will wait until after the election and will appoint the winner to fill the remaining weeks of Wellstone's term, giving the new senator a leg up in seniority among the incoming class.
Should Republican Coleman win the race and be appointed, the Senate would once again be tied, assuming Jeffords continues to vote with Democrats, allowing Republican Vice President Richard B. Cheney to cast tie-breaking votes. However, should Missouri Republican Jim Talent defeat Democrat Sen. Jean Carnahan on Nov. 5, some legal scholars have argued he would be seated immediately as that Senate race is a special election. The addition of Coleman and Talent would give the Republicans an outright majority of two seats, 51 to 49 (with Jeffords still voting with the Democrats) until the new senators take office in early January 2003.
With outright control, the Republicans could reorganize the chamber, claim committee chairs and potentially move nominees and legislation that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has been unwilling to bring up.
Democrats do not lose the ability to filibuster, however, and could try to stop the Republicans from doing so.