MINNEAPOLIS -- Three decades after his last Senate run, Walter Mondale kicked off a five-day whirlwind campaign on Thursday as the replacement for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone in a race that could determine the balance of power in Washington.
Mondale accepted Minnesota Democrats' nomination by acclamation Wednesday night to oppose Republican Norm Coleman, the former St. Paul mayor. Coleman was hand-picked by the White House to run against Wellstone, who died in a plane crash last week.
At a news conference, the 74-year-old said Mondale said he intends to serve a full six-year term and touted his previous experience as a senator, vice president and ambassador, saying it means he can walk into the Senate and immediately be a leader.
"I don't apologize for my experience. It's an asset," Mondale said.
Mondale said he has already cut two television ads, which he said were both positive, but said he won't get involved in fund-raising.
"I'm not going to make one phone call for money," he said.
In an interview earlier Thursday on WCCO-AM, Mondale also stressed his experience.
"I think I can help on the first day to attack those problems that must be dealt with," he said. "Education, environment, the economy is stumbling. We've got some very severe challenges internationally."
A statewide poll this week showed Mondale with 98 percent name recognition, but he said he wouldn't be counting on that. He said he would travel the state and engage Coleman in one debate. Republicans had asked for five.
"I want to reintroduce myself and I want to listen again," he said. "That's why I want to move around the state. I think I'm fairly well-known, but I don't want to leave it at that. There are real issues we have to deal with."
Mondale had a full schedule Thursday, with several hours blocked off from campaigning to attend another funeral for one of the people who died in the crash. Coleman, meanwhile, planned his second straight day of flying around the state to campaign.
Coleman acknowledged during campaign stops Wednesday that competing with Mondale was "like running against Mount Rushmore. ... I am running against an icon."
But Coleman stressed that Mondale would have to work for the job. "Nobody hands you anything."
Democrats were buoyant as they nominated Mondale to run. He was seen as their best shot at keeping Wellstone's seat.
At a special meeting Wednesday night, more than 800 party representatives approved Mondale's candidacy with an exuberant "YEA!" There were no dissenters; Mondale was mobbed as he made his way to the podium to speak.
"I think given the circumstances, he's absolutely the strongest candidate we could field," said delegate Buzz Snyder, 56, a postmaster in St. Cloud. "He transcends partisan politics."
Mondale's nomination came as Democrats took heavy criticism for a memorial in Wellstone's honor the night before. The memorial began with a somber tone, but later turned boisterous as family and friends rallied for Mondale.
Republicans said the ceremony was too partisan.
Mondale last ran for office in 1984, an unsuccessful bid for president in which he lost in a landslide to Ronald Reagan. After that, he served as ambassador to Japan under President Clinton, and since has practiced law in Minnesota. He served as a senator for Minnesota from 1964 to 1976.
His campaign, he said, would help Minnesotans heal after Wellstone's death.
"I will be your voice, and I will be Paul Wellstone's voice for decency and better lives," he said.
Wellstone was killed along with his wife, daughter, three campaign staffers and two pilots in a plane crash Friday in northern Minnesota. He had been in a tight race with Coleman.
Mondale has inherited the slight lead Wellstone had recently opened over Coleman, according to a poll of 639 likely voters released Wednesday by the Star Tribune of Minneapolis.
Mondale had 47 percent support to Coleman's 39 percent, according to the poll, which has a margin of sampling error of 4 percentage points.
His nomination came amid growing concern that results of Tuesday's election will be delayed by confusion over what to do with absentee ballots.
Some county officials mailed out new ballots, despite statements by the secretary of state and attorney general that they should only be given out in person.
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