ST. PAUL -- Exactly one week after he entered Minnesota's Senate race as a fill-in for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, Walter Mondale conceded to Republican Norm Coleman on Wednesday and declared his political career over.
"It appears that this election has been decided and a few minutes ago I called Senator-elect Coleman to congratulate him on his success and wish him and Laurie the best in his new assignment," Mondale told supporters at a St. Paul hotel.
The race was close, 50 percent to 48 percent, with 98 precincts reporting. But Mondale said he anticipated no legal challenge to the outcome, even though some Wellstone supporters were angry that their absentee ballots would not be counted.
Mondale called the brief campaign "one of the most unbelievable moments in Minnesota history."
"At the end of what will be my last campaign, I want to say to Minnesota, you always treated me well."
Mondale returns to political retirement two weeks after Wellstone's death threw the race into chaos.
Coleman's victory over one of Minnesota's revered statesmen was part of a national Republican tide, and a symbol of strength for President Bush. Coleman was the White House's chosen candidate, and Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney visited the state several times on his behalf.
With the count nearly final, Coleman had 50 percent, or 1.02 million votes, to Mondale's 48 percent, or 974,174 votes. Three independents split the rest.
Coleman worked frantically for the victory, ending his two-year bid for office with a 3,000-mile travel blitz in the last days. On the final night alone, he campaigned in twice as many cities as Mondale did in his brief campaign.
Both the Coleman and Mondale camps shut down their election night headquarters in the wee hours Wednesday with the race in the balance, and Coleman couldn't immediately be reached when he was declared the winner about 5 a.m. He planned a noon victory rally at the state Capitol.
Hours earlier, Coleman talked of a "Republican wave" sweeping the party to victories around the country.
"The wave is moving from east to west and we're waiting for it to hit Minnesota," he said.
The all-night vote count was the latest chapter in a saga created by Wellstone's death in a plane crash 11 days before the election.
The 58-year-old liberal died in the midst of a tough campaign against Coleman for a third term. Mondale, who served two terms in the Senate and four years as President Carter's vice president, was lured out of political retirement to try to hold Wellstone's seat for the Democrats in the closely divided Senate.
Mondale said he had no regrets about the run. As for the loss, he acknowledged the magnitude of the Republicans' victories nationally, saying, "I think the president won a big victory here."
"This was a sweep," he said. "We could feel the undertow here in Minnesota. He will claim a mandate. I think the public can accept that."
The day before the election, an angry Gov. Jesse Ventura appointed fellow Independence Party member Dean Barkley, a major figure in Minnesota's third-party movement, to temporarily fill Wellstone's seat, just as Mondale and Coleman had their only debate of their compressed Senate campaign.
The governor said he was upset that Jim Moore, the party's gubernatorial candidate, was excluded from the televised event.
Coleman, 53, had to remake his campaign when Mondale stepped in. Analysts gave the former St. Paul mayor low chances for success, predicting sympathy for Wellstone and respect for Mondale would combine for a comfortable victory.
But Wellstone supporters handed Republicans a second chance at victory by turning a televised memorial service into a partisan foot-stomp. The scene offended Republicans and some undecided voters, and though Democrats later apologized, the fallout lingered for days.
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