MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Green lawn signs touting Paul Wellstone for Senate were wrapped with black ribbons in some locations Friday to mourn the passing of one of the country's most liberal and fiery politicians.
A steady stream of well-wishers also stopped by the senator's campaign headquarters in Minneapolis to offer hugs and flowers to staff members. Meanwhile, flags throughout the state were lowered to half-staff and political campaigns came to a halt at the news of Wellstone's death.
Wellstone -- known for ferocious campaigning and deep, liberal convictions -- was killed in a plane crash Friday morning in northern Minnesota along with his wife, daughter and five others.
"One of the most powerful voices for justice in this country has been silenced," said friend and DFL gubernatorial candidate Roger Moe.
Fellow senators were quick to pour praise on the fiery 58-year-old, who was outspoken and opinionated to the end. Earlier this month, he was the only Democrat facing a tough re-election to vote against authorizing military force against Iraq.
"Minnesota lost a courageous leader and an extraordinary human being," said fellow Minnesota Sen. Mark Dayton, who was in Europe. "Paul championed so many causes and helped so many people throughout our state. He was a model and an inspiration to all of us who followed in his footsteps."
"Paul Wellstone was my best friend in the Senate," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. "Paul stood up for his beliefs, spoke from his heart, and listened to the quiet voices that too often go unheard in Washington."
Even Republicans, such as Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., called Wellstone a close friend.
"While we were often on different sides of political and issue fences there was never a fence between our friendship and a personal relationship where advice, counsel and support were equally shared," Roberts said.
Wellstone's most powerful opponent -- President Bush -- also spoke highly of him. "Paul Wellstone was a man of deep convictions," he said. "He was a plainspoken fellow who did his best for his state and for his country."
His Republican challenger, Norm Coleman, called it "a terrible, unimaginable tragedy."
"The entire Wellstone family has been selfless, public servants who embodied the best of Minnesota," he said.
Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., said that Democrats across the country admired Wellstone for breaking a pledge to serve only two terms because of the near split in the U.S. Senate.
"All of us admired this fight," Kennedy said. "Paul Wellstone had a passion for the good things for people, and he expressed it on the floor of the U.S. Senate and here in Minnesota."
As the day wore on, it became clear that Wellstone was not a lone soldier. His wife of 39 years, Sheila, was by his side through it all.
"Together they made one of the most impressive public couples in America," said former Vice President Walter Mondale.
Said Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn.: "The source of his views came from a deep conviction that he and Sheila shared."
Several lawmakers cited the same example of what people loved about Wellstone. On flights from Minnesota to Washington, Wellstone would work the aisles of the airplane greeting every passenger.
But Wellstone's personality stretched beyond Minnesota and Washington. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the senator a personal friend.
"He was a profoundly decent man, a man of principle, a man of conscience," he said. "His passing is a loss not only for his family, friends and constituents, but also for friends of the United Nations."
Moe said he knows what Wellstone would tell supporters.
"Paul would say this: 'Never, never give up the struggle for justice and never give up the fight."'
Craig Gustafson may be reached at cgustafson(at)ap.org
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