Paul Wellstone: 1944-2002

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The Senator on 'Meet the Press' in 1999

He was often the lone liberal voice in an increasingly moderate Senate. Paul Wellstone, who died Friday in a plane crash, was known for being a forthright, passionate advocate for leftist causes, and for creating an atmosphere of honesty in the chamber where he worked. He was 58 years old, father of three and grandfather of six.

The charter plane carrying Wellstone, his wife Sheila, daughter Marcia, three staffers and two pilots, went down in a wooded area near Eveleth-Virginia Municipal Airport, about 175 miles north of Minneapolis. All eight passengers were confirmed dead. Wellstone was on his way to the funeral of the father of a state lawmaker. The plane, identified as a King Air, is a twin-engine turboprop made by Raytheon.

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Just winding up his second term in the U.S. Senate, Wellstone was never afraid to take an unpopular position, even while battling for re-election. From opposing President Clinton's welfare reform to recently voting against military action in Iraq, the Minnesota senator's positions were defiantly liberal — and either because of or despite his left-leaning tendencies, he was hugely popular and universally well respected among his constituents and colleagues. Wellstone was best known as a champion of labor, mental health care, veterans' issues and ending domestic violence. He was often frustrated by the moderation of political beliefs, both in the Senate and in his own party. During President Clinton's time in office, he famously declared that the Democrats had "lost their soul."

"He was always passionate, always determined, and he was always cheering for someone else," Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy told CNN, his voice breaking. "He was a wonderful, wonderful person. This is just terrible."

Last February Wellstone announced he had a "mild form" of multiple sclerosis, but said the degenerative neurological disease would not blunt his energy or enthusiasm for political life. And as Wellstone battled for his Senate seat, it was clear he was still very much a force to reckoned with.

Engaged in a tough fight for his third term, Wellstone had recently grabbed a slim lead in the polls over his opponent, former St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman. Now, 11 days before Election Day, Wellstone's death throws a chaotic race for control of the Senate into even greater turmoil. Minnesota state law allows Governor Jesse Ventura or the state Democratic Party to replace Wellstone's name on the ballot up until four days before the election. State Democratic leaders said they were confident they would find a replacement, possibly Rebecca Yanisch, the state trade commissioner who unsuccessfully sought a Senate seat in 1990.