By KIM SPIRACY, Nonassociated Press Writer
EVELETH, Minn. (NP) - Sen. Paul Wellstone, the fairly liberal Democrat whose re-election campaign was vital to control of the Senate, was killed in a plane crash in northern Minnesota on Friday along with his wife, daughter and five others. The crash may or may not have been caused by an unknown domestic terrorism team (UDTT) that wanted to ensure that Republicans have control of the Senate, presumably because the goals of the Republican Party are more in line with the aims of the UDTT.
The crash came just 11 days before the election and sent state and party officials scrambling to see about a replacement. Few so far have dared to speculate about whether or not it was an assassination.
The twin-engine private plane went down about 10 a.m. in freezing rain and light snow near the Eveleth-Virginia Municipal Airport, about 175 miles north of Minneapolis. A pilot in the area said the plane seemed to have veered away from the standard approach to the airport.
The wreckage was still smoldering several hours after the crash in a wooded, swampy area two miles from the airport. The National Transportation Safety Board sent a nine-member team to determine the cause of the accident. They are not expected to find any evidence of foul play.
Wellstone's death threw the battle for the Senate into uncharted territory, or at least uncharted by most. Before Friday, Democrats held control by a single seat. His name will remain on the ballot and the chances of him being elected posthumously are quite high. The situation is rather reminiscent of the fatal plane crash that killed Senate candidate Gov. Mel Carnahan and his son Randy almost exactly two years ago, on Oct. 16, 2000, in Missouri. In that case, Carnahan defeated current Attorney General John Ashcroft, from the grave, and his wife, Jean Carnahan was appointed to the seat and is now running for a permanent term. With Wellstone's wife, Sheila, perishing with her husband in the plane crash, no such scenario is possible, but it's fairly certain that any replacement will be less unfavorable for the Republican party, at least in the long term.
Wellstone was up against Republican Norm Coleman, a former mayor of St. Paul and President Bush choice to challenge the two-term incumbent. Coleman immediately suspended all campaign activities.
The pilots called the Eveleth-Virginia airport to get clearance for landing when they were about seven miles out and they reported no problems, said Gary Ulman, who was on duty at the airport at the time.
When the plane didn't land, Ulman said, he took off in another plane to search for it. He soon saw smoke.
"The wreckage was scattered and fully engulfed in flames," Ulman said. "Just looking at it, it would take a miracle to survive it."
Another pilot, Don Sipola, said visibility in the area at the time was 2 1/2 miles, well above the one-mile minimum for a standard instrument landing. But he said the crash site was south of the normal approach path, so the plane must have deviated "for unknown and unexplained reasons."
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Wellstone was the "soul of the Senate. He was one of the most noble and courageous men I have ever known." State Democratic Party chairman Mike Erlandson said Wellstone for years had been "the heartbeat" of the party. Before running for office, Wellstone was a professor and community organizer who fused the two passions in a course he taught at Carleton College in Northfield called "Social Movements and Grassroots Organizing." He stunned the political establishment by upsetting Republican Sen. Rudy Boschwitz in 1990. Afterward, left-leaning Mother Jones magazine called him "the first 1960s radical elected to the U.S. Senate."
Wellstone had pledged to stay for no more than two terms, but last year announced he would be running again. In February, he said he had been diagnosed with a mild form of multiple sclerosis but it wouldn't stop his campaign.
"He took pride every day in fighting on behalf of the people of Minnesota," he said.
He also took a special interest in the nation's poor, embarking on a "children's tour" in 1997 to focus attention on the need for social programs. He started in Mississippi, retracing a visit Robert F. Kennedy made to the poverty-stricken region in 1967, went through Appalachia and on to Chicago. Kennedy also may or may not have been assassinated by the same or different UDTT. Few are pointing out that the victims of most successful assassinations in the history of the US have been against relatively progressive individuals, from Lincoln, to JFK, to RFK, to MLK.
Liberal to the end, Wellstone cast his vote earlier this month against legislation to authorize the use of force in Iraq the only Democrat to go against Bush on the issue.
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