Death On The Campaign Trail

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Elsewhere the picture for the Democrats was looking little better. Democratic challengers are facing photo finishes in New Hampshire and Colorado, and the early momentum of Ron Kirk in Texas has faded. (Kirk, who is black, recently suggested that his opponent favored military action in Iraq because minorities would be doing most of the fighting.) Still, with 10 races lingering within the margin of error, every day brings new possibilities. In North Carolina, Elizabeth Dole's campaign against former Clinton aide Erskine Bowles hit what one G.O.P. strategist this week called "the skids" as her lead in the polls suddenly dropped to four points. Republicans rushed veteran campaign doctors to the scene in an attempt to stop the bleeding and hold on to the seat, soon to be vacated by Jesse Helms.

The final wild card is Louisiana. Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu is leading, but the state has a unique "open primary" on Election Day in which all candidates from all parties are thrown together on one ballot. (It's like Mardi Gras with debates.) If no one gets 50%--and there are nine candidates, three of whom are legitimate G.O.P. hopefuls — the top two finishers go to a run-off on Dec. 7, meaning that it's possible that the Senate could remain locked 49 to 49 to 1 until then. Just in case such a scenario plays out, both parties (having learned a lesson from the last election) have established toll-free hot lines to report voting irregularities. The Democrats have also assembled an army of attorneys to stand by in districts with close races and questionable voter-participation histories, and the Republicans are mobilizing their own army of poll watchers.

Whoever is sworn in on Jan. 3, 2003, will have a tough time living up to Wellstone's contrarian act. No other member of the Senate was on the losing side of so many 99-to-1 or 98-to-2 votes, and none voted more consistently against the Bush Administration, according to the Congressional Quarterly. But Wellstone was not merely obstreperous. Born to Russian-Jewish immigrants, he was encouraged by his father, a frustrated playwright and essayist who spoke 10 languages and worked for the U.S. Information Agency under Edward R. Murrow, to live a life that merged intellectual pursuits with community service. At 19, Wellstone married his high school sweetheart, Sheila Ison, the daughter of Kentucky coal miners, and, after getting his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, moved to Minnesota to teach at Carleton College. It was there, in 1974, that he had his first brush with politics; informed by the college administration that he would not be retained owing to his poor publishing record, he rallied students and professors to protest on his behalf. He won tenure.

"Paul wasn't scared of a fight, but he also wasn't scared of a friend," says conservative Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas. After heated debates with John McCain on the Senate floor, Wellstone, a former college wrestler who still holds the Capitol Police gym record for pushups and pull-ups, would grab McCain in the cloakroom in a mock wrestling hold. And when one of his amendments was inevitably defeated by a lopsided vote, Wellstone would walk over to the opposing Senator who had defeated him, slap him on the back and joke, "You were lucky this time." He remained the ideological conscience of Senate Democrats, goading them not to compromise the party's populist tradition by promoting such seemingly lost causes as universal health care and insurance coverage for mental illness. During a recent conversation with former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, Wellstone joked about his legacy. According to Kerrey, Wellstone said, "I think my epitaph is going i*Ato read, 'We don't know what he did, but he sure looked tired.'" Says Kerrey: "Now I think his epitaph will be, 'We didn't realize what a good man he was until he was gone.'"

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