St. Paul, Minn. Sen. Paul Wellstone's oldest son has urged former Vice President Walter Mondale to step in as his late father's replacement on the Nov. 5 ballot, Democratic leaders said Sunday.
Mike Erlandson, chairman of the state's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, said David Wellstone asked Mondale to run in his father's place. He and other surviving family members weren't immediately available to comment, the late senator's campaign staff said.
A group of up to 875 Minnesota Democrats will meet Wednesday to officially choose the substitute candidate for Wellstone, who died Friday in a plane crash.
Erlandson refused to say whether Mondale would be the nominee, although he has said the family's choice would weigh heavily in the party's decision. He said he believes Mondale will run if nominated.
If Democrats succeed in drafting Mondale, it will give them a powerhouse candidate for a six-day campaign against Republican Norm Coleman, the former St. Paul mayor who entered the race at the urging of President Bush. The race had been tight between Coleman and Wellstone and was a top target of Republicans trying to regain control of the Senate.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on Sunday said the administration would wait until the Democrats formally name a replacement before commenting on the race. "It's still appropriate to let the people of Minnesota grieve," he said.
State Republican officials have said they would attempt to cast a Mondale-Coleman race as a choice between a reluctant placeholder and someone who is eager to do the work.
"Walter Mondale is a good man," Coleman said Sunday, declining to comment further on his potential opponent. "There will be a campaign, but now is not the time."
Mondale, 74, hasn't returned calls to reporters or answered the door at his Minneapolis home.
Those close to Mondale said he isn't expected to comment publicly on a potential candidacy until after Tuesday's memorial service for Wellstone, his wife, daughter and three campaign workers who died in the plane crash. Relatives of the six passengers and two pilots on Sunday visited the northern Minnesota crash site.
A reconstruction of the flight showed everything appeared normal as the pilot made his approach, Carol Carmody, acting chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board said Sunday.
She said they still don't know why about a minute after the last radio contact, the aircraft began drifting south, away from the airport, and slowing down before it crashed.
Erlandson said the blessing of Wellstone's surviving family members makes Mondale the clear favorite.
"He is certainly the public sentiment front-runner, among activists, among party leadership," Erlandson said. "We've had hundreds of phone calls and e-mails."
National Democratic leaders also have reached out to Mondale over the past two days.
During a visit to Wellstone's campaign headquarters Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Mondale was clearly the strongest choice, calling him "the great unifier."
"People in this state, people in this country can unite behind his strength," he said.
Mondale had held the same Senate seat for 12 years before accepting Jimmy Carter's invitation to run for vice president in 1976. In 1984, Mondale challenged President Reagan for office and was soundly defeated.
He served as U.S. ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1996 and has practiced law in Minneapolis since then.
The battle for Wellstone's seat was one of a half-dozen or so expected to determine which party will control the Senate next year. The loss of Wellstone leaves the chamber split 49-49 among Republicans and Democrats, with one independent, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, who is allied with the Democrats.
Under Minnesota law, it appeared it wouldn't be legal to leave Wellstone's name on the ballot. Absentee ballots already marked for Wellstone won't count for the Senate race, but people who submitted them could go to the polls on Nov. 5 and submit a new ballot.