From intensity to tragedy: The minnesota U.S. senate race

William H. Flanigan, Joanne M. Miller, Jennifer L. Williams, Nancy H. Zingale

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The tragic death of Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) eleven days before the 2002 election created shock waves throughout Minnesota. On Friday, October 25, Senator Wellstone was killed in a plane crash in northern Minnesota. A moratorium on campaigning immediately went into effect in all election races, lasting for five days, until after the public memorial service on Tuesday night. This service, held in a sports arena on the University of Minnesota campus and attracting a crowd of 20,000, was televised for over three hours on all the major network affiliates in the state. It reflected both the anguish of the senator's supporters and the passion of his political convictions, turning, perhaps inevitably, into a foot-stamping, fist-pumping partisan rally. The backlash was immediate, with callers to the television stations complaining about the coverage and donors going online or telephoning the Republican Party to give money.1 Governor Jesse Ventura (of the Independence Party) walked out in the middle of the service and thereafter publicly lambasted the Democratic Party for orchestrating it. The day after the memorial service, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party selected Walter F. Mondale to fill the vacancy on the ticket created by Wellstone's death. An abbreviated six-day campaign between Mondale and Republican Senate candidate Norm Coleman ensued. The aftermath of the memorial service was felt in many Minnesota races. Strategies were undercut, money went unspent, and attention was diverted. We should not be misled, however, by these dramatic events into thinking that the Minnesota Senate campaign was unique throughout. Our analysis takes into account three phases: first, the long period of campaigning before the plane crash; second, the five-day moratorium after the crash; and third, the six days of campaigning before Election Day. Generalizations and comparisons with other races are necessarily limited to the period before the crash. The Minnesota Senate race began conventionally enough, with incumbent Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone facing Republican Norm Coleman, former mayor of St. Paul. Wellstone was seen as vulnerable, and the race was expected to be highly competitive, with plenty of outside money. Early polls indicated that the race was not only close, but that relatively few voters were undecided and that voter sentiment changed little throughout the summer and early fall. Ultimately Coleman's victory was attributed to the uproar over the memorial service, the unexpected energizing of Republicans, and the mobilization of independent voters against Democrats. Turnout was over 60 percent, high in an off-year election, even by Minnesota standards2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe last hurrah?: Soft money and issue advocacy in the 2002 congressional elections
Subtitle of host publicationSoft money and issue advocacy in the 2002 congressional elections
EditorsDavid B Magelby, J Q Monson
Place of PublicationWashington, DC
PublisherBrookings Institution Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)0815754361, 9780815754367
StatePublished - 2004


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