WASHINGTON – Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale intends to appear before Minnesota party leaders Wednesday night to launch a campaign to hold the late Paul Wellstone's seat for the Democrats, according to party officials.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday that Mondale was expected to make his first public appearance as a candidate on Thursday.
Mondale fixed his entry into the race several days after Wellstone perished in the crash of a small plane, and less than a week before the Nov. 5 election.
Mondale, a Minnesota senator before going to the White House with President Carter, had quickly emerged as the consensus choice of Democratic elders concerned about holding Wellstone's seat, one of a handful of races around the country that will determine which party controls the Senate in the new Congress.
Additionally, Wellstone's sons relayed word over the weekend they preferred Mondale to be on the ticket.
Wellstone's Republican challenger, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, temporarily suspended campaign activities after Wellstone's death.
Leaders of the DFL, the Minnesota Democratic Party, scheduled a meeting for Wednesday night to ratify the selection. Party sources said the former vice president would speak to the gathering and was expected to file formal paperwork either Wednesday or Thursday.
Wellstone and Coleman had been scheduled to debate Friday night, and it was not known whether Mondale would keep the date.
One week before the election, the Minnesota Democrats went to court during the day to demand that new absentee ballots be prepared. State elections officials have said that absentee votes already cast for Wellstone would not count for his replacement.
The state Supreme Court scheduled a hearing for Thursday.
Mondale, 74, last ran for public office in 1984, when he was the losing Democratic presidential nominee. His name last appeared on a ballot for the Senate in 1972, when he won the second of two terms in Minnesota. He resigned the seat to run for vice president as Carter's running mate in 1976.
Mondale was ambassador to Japan under President Clinton after leaving partisan politics. And since leaving that post, he has lived the life of a lawyer in Minnesota and an elder statesman in his party.
That stature will be tested over the next week, as Coleman and other Republicans seek to cast him as a Democratic liberal running for a seat that could well determine the battle for control of the Senate.
Here's the thing," said Minnesota GOP spokesman Bill Walsh. "The people of Minnesota expect Mondale to earn this Senate seat. It's not an entitlement. He's going to have to work for it. He's going to have to prove that he deserves it and he only has five days to do that."
"Part of earning it means debating," Walsh added.
Coleman spokeswoman Leslie Kupchella said the campaign would have no comment on Mondale's plans for now. "We'll let the parties comment," she said.
President Bush is expected to campaign for Coleman over the weekend, and one GOP source said polling taken in the days since Wellstone's death showed the race remained close.
Word of Mondale's plans surfaced as mourners were converging on Minnesota for a public memorial service for the victims of last Friday's plane crash. More than 15,000 people were expected to join senators of both parties for the proceedings, to be carried live on radio and television.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson was attending on behalf of the administration. The Wellstone family turned down an offer from the White House to have Vice President Dick Cheney present, in part to spare mourners from security screenings, officials said.