Paul Wellstone was a hero to area Democratic supporters, a man of principle and integrity whose shoes they say will be tough to fill.
Cass and Crow Wing County DFL party activists were stunned Friday to learn about Wellstone's death. Many had met Wellstone on numerous occasions when the U.S. senator had been in the Brainerd lakes area.
They expected to shake hands and speak with Wellstone at a DFL fund-raising dinner and rally at Breezy Point Resort Saturday night.
"Paul was really a hero to a lot of us," said Dave Butcher, rural Pequot Lakes, a Cass County DFL party member. "He always would grab me and give me a hug. My first reaction was to collapse (when he heard about Wellstone's death) and then I got angry. There's so much to do in this country and Paul really cared. He understood it was the little people who got things done. That was the Democratic principle."
Steve Barrows, Crow Wing County DFL party chair, said he admired Wellstone because the senator wasn't afraid to stand up and say what people didn't want to hear.
"I felt he was a person of integrity," said Barrows. "I feel he represented the blue-collar people of Minnesota. They needed a voice in Washington and he gave it to us. He has tough shoes to fill."
"It's a tough day, I tell you," said Barrows.
Martha Johnson, a Cass County DFL party member and Backus resident, agreed.
"I just think it's a tragic loss for Minnesota and for his family," said Johnson. "He was very in touch with the people."
"I think it's a shock to the whole nation," said Don Jackson, a Pequot Lakes resident and Cass County DFL party chair. "We all have disagreed with our senators and representatives from time to time but we'd never wish for this in a democracy."
"The fight is going to go on. I think this will mobilize people to continue in his legacy, to continue the fight," said Butcher.
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