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Mondale emerges as Democrats' top choice

Senators honor Wellstone

Walter Mondale
Walter Mondale

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Born: January 5, 1928 in Celyon, Minnesota
Family: Wife Joan (married 1955), children Theodore, Eleanore and William 
Career: Minnesota attorney general, 1960-64; Appointed to the Senate to fill the seat vacated by Vice President Hubert Humphrey, 1965; re-elected 1966 and 1972; vice president, 1977-1981; Democratic presidential candidate, 1984; ambassador to Japan, 1993-1996.
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Former Vice President Walter offers his condolences in the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone. (October 25)
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CNN's Candy Crowley takes a look at the political legacy of Sen. Paul Wellstone. (October 25)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Paul Wellstone's desk on the Senate floor was draped in black Monday as Democratic officials in Minnesota indicated former Vice President Walter Mondale could take his place on the November ballot.

Wellstone, D-Minnesota, was killed in a plane crash Friday along with his wife and daughter, three campaign aides and two pilots. (Full story)

Wellstone's elder son, David Wellstone, met with Mondale on Saturday and asked him to take his father's place in the November 5 election.

"The choice of the Wellstone family is Mr. Mondale. Mondale said if the Democratic Party would ask him to run, he would absolutely consider that," party chairman Mike Erlandson said Sunday.

Mondale, 74, has not indicated publicly whether he will seek to replace Wellstone on the ballot. The party will hold an open meeting to nominate a new candidate Wednesday night.

"I want to make it clear to people that we want to make this decision as a Democratic family together, just as Sen. Wellstone would want it to be," Erlandson said.

With Wellstone's death, the Senate is now split 49-49-1. Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont bolted from the Republican Party last year and declared himself an Independent, but he caucuses with the Democrats.

The White House recruited Republican Norm Coleman to challenge Wellstone, and President Bush was in Minnesota earlier this month to campaign on his behalf. Coleman said Sunday that Minnesotans "need time" to sort out the consequences of Wellstone's death, but promised a "vigorous" campaign once the Democrats chose a new candidate.

On the Senate floor Monday, a vase of flowers and a black shroud sat atop Wellstone's desk as several Democratic colleagues offered their eulogies.

"He was extraordinary, and he'll never be replaced," said Sen. Mark Dayton, his fellow Minnesota Democrat. "In the hearts and minds of Minnesotans, he will never be forgotten."

Added Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, "Paul was never afraid to speak out when it might be unpopular, nor was he afraid to be on the losing side of a Senate vote."

Wellstone, an outspoken liberal, was seeking a third term in the Senate. A memorial service for him and the other crash victims will be held Tuesday, and Gov. Jesse Ventura has offered to let Wellstone's remains lie in state in Minnesota's Capitol.

Wellstone, 58, was locked in a tight re-election battle with Coleman, the former mayor of St. Paul. Democrats consider the race key in their efforts to retain control of the Senate.

Under state law, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party -- as the Democrats are known in Minnesota -- has until Thursday afternoon to replace him.

--CNN Producers Dana Bash and Jennifer Feinberg contributed to this report.

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