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EVELETH, Minn.-U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) was killed in a plane crash Friday, October 25, less than two weeks before the culmination of a tight campaign race he had been running. Though it is too early to determine the cause of the crash as small planes do not typically have flight data or voice recorders aboard, light snow and freezing rain were reported in the area. Wellstone was seeking his third term. His wife, Sheila, and daughter, Marcia, were on board the twin prop turbo Beechcraft King Air A100 with the 58-year old Senator, as well as three campaign staffers and two pilots. The couple leaves behind two sons and six grandchildren. He had been traveling around his home state campaigning with Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who was flying on a commercial flight back to Washington when the crash occurred. Wellstone was traveling to the funeral of a friend when the small plane, with a capacity of seven to 15 plus a crew of two, crashed two miles short of the runway according to CNN. Wellstone was known as a renegade, liberal Senator who followed his beliefs and was well respected, if not always agreed with, by his colleagues. The latest example of this was when he voted against the use of force in Iraq; he was the only Senator up for reelection to do so. He served on several committees including the Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Agriculture, and Foreign Relations Committees, among others. While the event is certainly tragic, the political implications cannot be ignored. With Democrats holding just a one-seat lead in the Senate, the loss of a Democrat has provided grist for the rumor mill, speculating on what will happen next. Who will replace Wellstone on the ballot? That has pretty much been decided as former Vice President Walter Mondale, 74, who has not been on an election ballot since he ran for president in 1984 and was trounced by incumbent-President Ronald Reagan (R). Mondale’s name is well known throughout Minnesota, which could help Democrats in what was already a very tight race though Wellstone had pulled a point or two ahead of opponent Norm Coleman in recent days. Mondale most recently served as an ambassador to Japan during the Clinton administration. Other questions include: Will the sympathy vote be enough to put the Democratic candidate over the edge? Who will take Wellstone’s seat when the Senate returns for the lame duck session? Which party will control the Senate? Republicans were very focused on taking over the seat prior to the Senator’s death, with none other than President George W. Bush out stumping for Coleman. However, reports indicated that a return trip for the commander-in-chief is up in the air. Wellstone’s death also has a direct effect on the credit union community’s legislative interests. The same dedication to consumers that led the late-Senator to support H.R. 1151, is the same interest that made him an adamant opponent of the bankruptcy reform legislation (H.R. 333). Generally, the credit union lobby had a good relationship with Wellstone. While the Minnesota Credit Union Network officially did not endorse a particular candidate in the race, its President Kevin Chandler was personally campaigning for Wellstone. The Credit Union Legislative Action Council of CUNA had donated $1,000 to Wellstone’s campaign, according to CUNA Vice President of Political Affairs Richard Gose, who added that the Senator would not accept a lot of PAC money. NAFCU/PAC was not supporting a candidate in that race. “Senator Wellstone’s tragic death is a loss for the country and a loss for the credit union community,” CUNA President and CEO Dan Mica said. “Senator Wellstone recognized that credit unions’ cooperative structure and people-oriented philosophy are consistent with his lifelong support for `the little guy.’ He left a notable mark in the Senate and will be greatly missed.” “We were saddened and shocked by the tragic events,” NAFCU Legislative and Political Director Brad Thaler commented, “and our condolences go out to the family and friends of those involved.” [email protected]

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