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Fallout from a Memorial

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OWEN FRANKEN/CORBIS SYGMA

Some Democrats felt Paul Wellstone's memorial service was a political disaster

Did the memorial service for Paul Wellstone cost Democrats the election?

A backlash against the politically charged service almost certainly helped Norm Coleman beat Walter Mondale for Wellstone's Minnesota Senate seat. And a private poll by Bill Clinton's former pollster, Mark Penn, suggests the service backfired on Democrats nationally as well.

Penn found that 68% of voters knew about the serviceŚa high awareness of an event broadcast live nationally only on C-SPAN. What's more, 49% of voters said the service made them less likely to vote for a DemocratŚand 67% of independents said they felt that way. One Democrat who quickly sensed that the service was a political disaster was Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, a possible 2004 presidential contender.

The next morning Kerry called Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott, who had been booed at the memorial, to tell him how bad he felt. Penn believes national security was ultimately a bigger issue. His poll shows a stunning 65% of voters thought Democrats weren't supportive enough of the President's war on terror. "That was the issue," says Penn. "But the memorial didn't help."