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Transcript: Mike Erlandson on FNS

Following is a transcribed excerpt from Fox News Sunday, Oct. 27, 2002.

TONY SNOW, FOX NEWS: Just nine days before midterm elections, Democrats are scrambling to find a replacement for Senator Paul Wellstone, who died Friday in a plane crash along with his wife, daughter and five others. The outcome of the Minnesota Senate race, which already was too close to call before the tragedy, could determine which party controls the Senate for the next two years.

Fox News senior political correspondent Carl Cameron has the latest from St. Paul, Minnesota.

Carl?

CARL CAMERON, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Tony.

And even as mourners have turned the Wellstone campaign headquarters into a makeshift memorial, politics moves on, and they may have found their replacement. Former Vice President Walter Mondale has indicated his willingness to run in Wellstone's stead.

A private family service is planned at the crash site for the family this afternoon. A public memorial will be held on Tuesday at the University of Minneapolis in Minnesota.

At the crash site, investigators say the plane had no flight data recorder, and it could be months before they know what caused the crash that killed the senator, his wife, daughter, three campaign aides, and two-person flight crew.

Now, former Vice President Walter Mondale has emerged as the Democrats' choice to replace Wellstone, whose name must be removed from the ballot under Minnesota law. Mondale was urged to run by Wellstone's two surviving sons, Bill Clinton and Tom Daschle. And now sources say an announcement could be made formal any time in the next couple of days.

Wellstone, of course, was known as a proud, unwavering, far-left liberal. In 1990, his first vote was against the Gulf War, and one of his last recently was against war with Iraq. In fact, he was the only U.S. senator up for re-election this year to vote no, and even told his wife it could probably cost him the election against Republican Norm Coleman.

For Coleman, the loss of Wellstone becomes a vexing potential political setback. He is the former mayor of St. Paul and was once a Democrat who was hand-chosen by the White House for his appeal to moderate swing voters in this election. He had been thought of as the GOP's — one of their best hopes to oust the Democrat in this year's high-stakes battle to win the narrowly Senate majority. Now, many worry that sympathy for Wellstone and the starpower of a Mondale could make it a very difficult uphill climb for Mr. Coleman.

There are a number of other issues. Ventura, the governor of Minnesota, Independent Jesse Ventura, could appoint an interim senator, but whoever actually wins the election would take over the seat as soon as they are sworn in.

And there's an outstanding issue of absentee ballots. More than 100,000 have been requested. Votes for Wellstone would not count, while votes for Coleman would, which could give the Republicans some opportunity to compete against the former vice president into this race in the final days.

Tony?

SNOW: All right, Carl, thank you.

About an hour ago, before Carl's report, we taped an interview with Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Mike Erlandson. His party has five days to name a replacement for Senator Wellstone. And I began by asking when the party would have a replacement.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE ERLANDSON, CHAIRMAN, MINNESOTA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Well, we're going to make some announcements this afternoon as to the process the party will follow. But I don't expect to have an official replacement until Wednesday or even maybe as late as Thursday. That's official capacity anyway.

TONY: Walter Mondale the guy?

ERLANDSON: You know, I can't say for sure. There's obviously been a lot of discussions with the former vice president. He seems clearly to be the preferred choice of the Wellstone family, which I think is very important. But we want to make sure that the Democratic Party and leaders in the party have an opportunity to think this all the way through.

And we want to make sure we make the right choice, certainly most importantly because that's what Paul Wellstone would want us to do. It's very important that part of his legacy is that we not only win this Senate seat, but we also elect Roger Mohair (ph) in Minnesota as the next governor of the state.

TONY: All right. Have you consulted with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle?

ERLANDSON: I have had some conversations with individuals that work for him. I have not talked to him directly. I think the senator knows that those of us in Minnesota politics back here are, you know, really still just finishing the very difficult grieving process as we try to move forward. You know, there's hundreds of staff people on the Democratic Party staff, on Senator Wellstone's party staff, and of course all of the families of the individuals involved.

And not only did we lose Senator Wellstone, his wife Sheila and their daughter Marcia, but we lost Marie McAvoy (ph), the associate chair of the party, and Will McLaughlin (ph), a young up-and-coming staffer, and Tom Lepik (ph), who's been just a backbone of Senator Wellstone's office for so many years.

So, you know, there are difficult times to sort of simultaneously run this grieving process as well as work forward to make sure that we come forward with a strong, strong replacement for Senator Wellstone and we win this election on November 5th. We've got a lot of work to do between now and then, that's for sure.

SNOW: That is for sure.

Have you spoken to Mr. Mondale?

ERLANDSON: I have had casual conversations with Mr. Mondale. Again, I felt the most appropriate thing for any individuals was let the families have an opportunity to make their memorial services, get those officially planned, let the bodies be recovered from the accident site. And, you know, that didn't happen until late in the day yesterday.

And so, no, those things are at least set in place now and more discussions have become (ph). But, you know, again, we hope that Senator Wellstone's sons will have an opportunity to, you know, make some official statements about the loss of their parents before we really take any further action on this and move forward.

SNOW: Now, there's a considerable ideological difference, it appears, between Paul Wellstone and Walter Mondale. For instance, Paul Wellstone a populist, a guy who constantly talked about corporate America, and yet Walter Mondale, in his post-Senate career, has been on the boards of some of the largest corporations in America.

Senator Wellstone opposed to HMOs. Meanwhile, Senator Mondale actually sits on the board on the largest HMO on the face of the earth and was a co-sponsor of the legislation in 1973 that created them.

And furthermore, you have Senator Wellstone, somebody who protested the Vietnam War, Senator Mondale somebody who supported it, granted when Hubert Humphrey was vice president.

How are you going to tell Senator Wellstone's supporters suddenly that a man who seems to, at least in his post-Senate career, have embraced all the things Senator Wellstone thundered against so effectively for years, that he would be an appropriate replacement?

ERLANDSON: Well, first of all, there is no official announcement of a replacement. The party has not acted to replace Senator Wellstone on the ballot.

You know, I can tell you that, obviously, there will be nobody that will replace Senator Wellstone in who Senator Wellstone was completely. But people in Minnesota, whether that's Walter Mondale or somebody else, we have a state that is full of wonderful elected leaders and wonderful individuals outside of the elective office. Minnesota has a great tradition of being populist and in voting their conscience. And I know that Senator Wellstone would want to make sure that whoever replaced him in the United States Senate is somebody that would be voting with the Democrats on the important issues facing our country.

You know, and we've got, as we all know, the entire United States Senate hangs in the balance. Control could change with this election, you know, as soon as November 6th in Minnesota.

SNOW: So it's — the important thing at this point is not replacing the ideology but just keeping the party?

ERLANDSON: Well, I think that Senator Wellstone certainly would respect and trust that Walter Mondale could fill his shoes, as well as a number of other individuals in the state of Minnesota. So we're not worried about that part.

SNOW: Let me turn to a procedural matter. There are 100,000 absentee ballots out. As I understand it, the ones with Paul Wellstone's names cannot be counted, whereas those with Norm Coleman's name, the Republican nominee, can be counted. Do you plan to appeal that?

ERLANDSON: Well, we are certainly looking into that. You know, I actually find it a little bit outrageous that Minnesota's secretary of state was continuing to send out and prepare ballots to be sent out yesterday with Senator Wellstone's name on it.

I mean, there's no question that the ones that had been mailed should be dealt with appropriately. But nothing else should be going out until the Democrats put forward a name, whoever that person is.

Her office should be doing things to make sure that the votes are counted in Minnesota. We know that that will be an issue. It's been an issue since the presidential election of 2000. And everybody in Minnesota wants to know that there'll be a fair process take place.

And in fact, the secretary of state of Minnesota put out a sample of what would be the supplemental ballot yesterday, and it was a confusing thing. At the top, it said, "Put an `X' next to your choices for Senate."

SNOW: OK.

ERLANDSON: I mean, you know, so we're going to have to keep a close eye on this and make sure all the votes are counted.

SNOW: All right. Norm Coleman, after saying he was suspending his campaign, evidently is resuming it today. What's you reaction to that?

ERLANDSON: Well, you know, I think that it would have been nice that politics could have taken maybe another day or so off in Minnesota, let the families grieve, certainly through the weekend.

I think everybody knows that the campaigns are going to start up again, how can they not? Senator Wellstone would expect that they would, given the fact that, you know, the election is just days away, in election time.

And so, you know, it's a little disappointing if people come out of the box, but I assume any campaign that any candidates are going to do is going to be the kind of grass-roots handshaking. It's not going to be major media, it's not going to be negative advertising.

I think we're probably done with negative advertising in Minnestota, and Senator Wellstone would certainly approve of that.

SNOW: Senator Mondale, if somebody came to him and said, "OK, we really want you to run," would he say no?

ERLANDSON: You know, I don't know the answer to that question. I know that any individual, whether that's the former vice president or any Democrat in the state of Minnesota, with that question before them, it would be a very long, hard, difficult decision to make. But it would certainly be a hard thing to say no, that's for sure.

SNOW: Mike Erlandson, thanks for joining us.