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Mondale's defeat is blamed on memorial

Published Sep. 4, 2005

The memorial service for Sen. Paul Wellstone marked the beginning _ and probably the end, too _ of Walter Mondale's last campaign.

Many voters who rejected the former vice president Tuesday in his bid to return to the Senate said they were turned off by the memorial service's fierce partisan tone. During the Oct. 29 memorial, several speakers, including Wellstone's sons, urged mourners to vote Democratic.

"I changed my mind because I went down to the memorial service," Dennis Van Norman said as he left a polling place in suburban Roseville. "I told myself I wouldn't vote for Democrats for anything. I thought they were misbehaving more."

Another voter, Tom Calder, said he decided against Mondale after the service but was nearly swayed back by the debate with GOP rival Norm Coleman on Monday. But ultimately he voted for the Green Party candidate.

Coleman won with 50 percent of the vote, while Mondale had 47 percent.

"At the end of what will be my last campaign, I want to say to Minnesota, you always treated me well," Mondale, 74, said in defeat.

Mondale came out of retirement and ran a lightning, six-day campaign after Wellstone was killed in a plane crash 11 days before the election.

In his concession speech Wednesday morning, Mondale took responsibility for the loss. "It's on my shoulders," he said, as supporters yelled, "No!"

When a reporter later asked about the effect of the memorial service on the race, Mondale said it was "regrettable" it turned so political.

But he added: "The eulogizers were the ones hurt the most. It doesn't justify it, but we all make mistakes. Can't we now find it in our hearts to forgive them and go on?"

Larry Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota, blamed the state Democratic Party for the event. "Not to coordinate the content of the speeches was a fundamental mistake," Jacobs said. "There seemed to be more attention on music than tone and message."

While other Republicans criticized the event, Coleman, 53, said little about it and offered sympathy for Wellstone's family at every campaign stop for the next week.

"That allowed Norm Coleman to become the chief mourner," Jacobs said.

Coleman also sprinted through dozens of cities, capped with an election eve tour of 16 cities in 16 hours. That yielded a double benefit: He was able to hunt for more votes in a tight race, and at the same time contrast his energy level with Mondale's.

"He clearly outworked Mondale," Jacobs said. "That's part of how he demonstrated, "I am young, I am vigorous, I can do this _ my opponent can't.' He raised the age issue through his behavior. He was like the Energizer Bunny. This is not something Walter Mondale could do."

Johnson squeaks by in S.D.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. _ Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson was re-elected by just 527 votes, beating a Republican congressman in a race that became, in effect, a battle between Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle and President Bush.

Johnson received 50 percent of the votes to Rep. John Thune's 49 percent.

Thune has the right to ask for a recount, because the margin was less than the one-quarter of 1 percent threshold specified under the law.

Thune said he will await the results of next week's official vote count before deciding whether to pursue a recount. He said if there is no evidence of irregularities, he will not contest the results.

The election marked the end of a yearlong battle that started when the president recruited Thune, a three-term House member, to challenge Johnson, a first-term senator.

Bush visited South Dakota four times this year, twice in the campaign's last week, to try to boost Thune's chances. The other heavyweight was Daschle, South Dakota's senior senator, who campaigned vigorously for Johnson over the past few months.

Johnson, 55, and Thune, 41, are among the most popular politicians in state history.

Rural vote helped Talent in Missouri

ST. LOUIS _ Even before Jim Talent took the stage at his victory party early Wednesday, the elated crowd waving pompoms for him in a hotel ballroom broke into a frenzied chant: "Swear him in! Swear him in! Swear him in!"

They won't have long to wait.

The Republican Talent, a former congressman, edged out incumbent Democrat Jean Carnahan, winning by fewer than 25,000 votes the right to represent Missouri in the Senate. His triumph will send him to Washington for four years, to finish out the term that Carnahan was appointed to in 2000 after her husband won election posthumously.

Under Missouri law, Carnahan's term will end as soon as the election results are certified. That should take about two weeks.

Analysts credited Talent's victory to a strong turnout in rural Missouri. Although he did worse than he had expected in urban and suburban turf, his message seemed to resonate in the conservative farm towns. So did his personality.

"In the end, he was a more engaging and appealing candidate," said Steven Smith, a political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis.

A father of three, Talent featured his children prominently in his commercials. He quotes the Bible readily and speaks with an easy, down-home demeanor; he dismisses the notion of weapons inspections in Iraq, for instance, with a breezy "Been there, done that, got the T-shirt."

Bush pulled out all the stops as well, making five campaign trips to Missouri, including a rousing rally for Talent on Monday.

_ Information from the Associated Press and Washington Post was used in this report.