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Mondale Hits Road to Win Wellstone's Seat

He may be a little grayer this time around, but 30 years after his last run for the Senate, Walter Mondale began a six-day whirlwind campaign for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone's seat in a race that could determine the balance of power in Washington.

The former vice president kicked off his campaign Wednesday against the Republican candidate, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.

"I think I know how to start being effective on the first day of the Senate. I have been there. I know the rules — I helped shaped them," Mondale said, referring to his stint as vice president — and thus president of the Senate — under Jimmy Carter.

Click to Watch Video of Minn. Gov. Jesse Ventura

At his first campaign stop on Thursday, Mondale talked about the economy, terrorism and foreign threats.

"I am very worried about the economy," he said. "I think there is an undercurrent of mistrust about our nation's economy that requires strong change and reform so that people can trust."

"As we face this very real and dangerous terrorist threat, as we deal with a dreadful, evil man in Iraq and other serious challenges such as in North Korea," he added. "I think there is a need for balance, not only for strength, but also for an America that reflects the values that draw the rest of the world to us.".

Coleman, until 1996 a Democrat himself, was nominated by Republicans in September to run against Wellstone, who died in a plane crash last week.

Coleman had a full schedule on Thursday, with several hours blocked off from campaigning to attend another funeral for one of the people who died in the plane crash.

He had asked Mondale to debate before Tuesday's election, which the former vice president said he would do once he finished a quick tour through the state talking to voters.

"I want to hear the people from Minnesota," Mondale said. "I want them to hear from me about how I see our future and about how we have to deal with it."

Democrats were buoyant as they nominated Mondale to run on Wednesday night. The 74-year-old was seen as their best shot at keeping Wellstone's seat.

At a special nominating meeting, more than 800 party representatives approved Mondale's candidacy with an exuberant "YEA!" There were no dissenters; Mondale was mobbed as he made his way to the podium to speak.

"I think given the circumstances, he's absolutely the strongest candidate we could field," said delegate Buzz Snyder, 56, a postmaster in St. Cloud. "He transcends partisan politics."

Coleman acknowledged during campaign stops Wednesday that competing with Mondale was "like running against Mount Rushmore. ... I am running against an icon."

But Coleman stressed that Mondale would have to work for the job. "Nobody hands you anything."

Mondale's nomination came as Democrats took heavy criticism for a memorial in Wellstone's honor the night before. The memorial began with a somber tone, but later turned boisterous as family and friends rallied for Mondale.

Republicans said the ceremony was too partisan.

Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura was so miffed he even went so far as to say he would try to appoint an independent instead of a Democrat to fill out Wellstone's term until a replacement is certified.

"I feel used. I feel violated and duped over the fact that that turned into nothing more than a political rally ... I think the Democrats should hang their heads in shame," Ventura told Fox News on Wednesday.

Ventura said his wife was so upset by the political quality of the speeches that she left the event in tears. He added that he was especially disturbed by one of Wellstone's closest friends, Rick Kahn, who told the crowd, "I'm begging you to help us win this Senate election for Paul Wellstone."

The governor said he was disgusted that some of the nearly 20,000 people who attended the service booed Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. Lott also left the event early.

Mondale, who last ran for office in 1984, in an unsuccessful bid to topple President Ronald Reagan, said that he thought some Wellstone supporters at the memorial may have gone over the line.

"Let me just say one thing. I was impressed by the number of Republican as well as Democratic public officers who came there to honor Paul and Sheila," Mondale commented.  "I loved the feeling of being there together as Americans not on party lines, but together to grieve a great leader, and that's the spirit I want to see sustained on this campaign."

His campaign, he said, would help Minnesotans heal after Wellstone's death.

"I will be your voice, and I will be Paul Wellstone's voice for decency and better lives," he said.

Wellstone was killed along with his wife, daughter, three campaign staffers and two pilots in a plane crash Friday in northern Minnesota. He had been in a tight race with Coleman.

Mondale has inherited the lead Wellstone had recently opened over Coleman, according to a poll of 639 likely voters released Wednesday by the Star Tribune of Minneapolis.

Mondale had 47 percent support to Coleman's 39 percent, according to the poll, which has a margin of sampling error of 4 percentage points.

His nomination came amid growing concern that results of Tuesday's election would be delayed by confusion over what to do with absentee ballots.

Officials agree the results in the Senate race probably won't be known before the morning after Election Day.

Coleman didn't waste any time targeting Mondale as he made campaign stops in three Minnesota cities Wednesday and launched new TV commercials.

The Minnesota GOP is asking for the television stations that aired Tuesday night's memorial and rally to give the Republican party equal amount of air time. The state party held a rally Wednesday night at a restaurant in St. Paul.

"It was billed as a memorial service, but it was a planned political rally," state GOP Chairman Ron Eibensteiner said of the Wellstone memorial. "And [Democrats] can conduct themselves in any fashion they want, I am not commenting on that. I am simply asking for equal time from all the television stations and radio stations."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.