Minn. Democrats Angered by GOP Challenge

Minnesota Democrats are livid over what they describe as the incredible insensitivity of the state Republican Party, which late Monday issued a challenge asking for five debates in five days between GOP Senate candidate Norm Coleman and presumptive Democratic candidate Walter Mondale.

"I would certainly hope out of respect they would refrain from those activities at least until Wednesday," said Chairman of the Democratic Farmer Labor Party Mike Erlandson.

The former vice president is the choice of the Wellstone family to replace Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash on Friday. Mondale is not expected to formally receive the Democratic Party's blessing until Wednesday night. The election is scheduled for Nov. 5.

The timing of the debate challenge is what angers Democrats. It came just hours before Wellstone's private funeral and burial.

"It is disrespectful to talk about that sort of issue until there is a nominee of the party," Erlandson said.

Democrats are not the only ones upset. Minnesota's former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson wrote to his party, telling them to "cease issuing debate challenges" out of respect for the Wellstone family.

"What should govern is decency and decency would suggest that there would be several days set aside to honor Sen. Paul Wellstone; to allow the people of Minnesota to grieve and the family and friends to grieve and come together, and then we can resume politics," Carlson said.

But state Republican Party officials defend the move, saying time is short and Mondale's entry completely changes the race.

"We have to make sure that the voters of Minnesota have the all the information they need to cast a well informed vote and I think that waiting serves no one. If we don't do anything I don't think that serves democracy very well," said Ron Eibensteiner, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party.

Before Monday's debate flap, Democrats were already upset that Coleman went back on a pledge to cease campaign activities until an appropriate time. Sunday, Coleman did a number of interviews for television networks, including Fox News Channel, and a lot of folks around the Wellstone camp were calling it Coleman's "non-campaign campaign."

The Coleman campaign argues the media called them, not the reverse.

Wellstone's memorial service, which is scheduled for Tuesday night, is expected to draw 20,000 people and get national media coverage, leading some to draw comparisons to it as a political event of a different kind.

Former U.S. Rep. Donald Fraser, D-Minn., said Tuesday night's service should inspire mourners to carry out the work championed by Wellstone, his wife and the campaign.

Fox News' Steve Brown contributed to this report.