ST. PAUL (AP) -- The closeness of the St. Paul mayoral election and the support behind each candidate's campaign has pundits from both wings of politics debating whether it's a precursor to the 2002 tilt for U.S. Senate.
During the mayoral campaign, St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman backed state senator Randy Kelly, while U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., supported city councilor Jay Benanav. Kelly won by a mere 403 votes.
Coleman is likely going to be the Republican nominee to try to unseat Wellstone.
Republican Party officials last week quickly interpreted the victory by Kelly in an urban core that is a crucial part of Wellstone's electoral base as a sign that Wellstone's vaunted grass-roots coalition had lost its effectiveness.
"This is yet another sign of Wellstone's metamorphosis from a grass-roots fighter to a career politician trying to hold on to his power," said state GOP Chairman Ron Eibensteiner.
And Coleman himself was not hesitant about attaching significance to Kelly's triumph.
"This was a major battle on their part to get the mayor's office and they lost, they failed," Coleman said. "In many ways it was the first salvo for the battle next year."
Wellstone would not talk about the aftermath of the election. His spokesman Jim Farrell said Wellstone doesn't intend to talk about politics until after Thanksgiving.
"We are in a national crisis right now," he said.
Dan Cramer, a DFL political consultant and veteran of Wellstone's first campaign in 1990, said he and other Wellstone supporters reject "out of hand" that Kelly's victory spells significant trouble for Wellstone.
"This was a referendum on (Coleman's) legacy and it limped by," Cramer said, noting Kelly's thin margin despite Coleman's presumed popularity.
And it's a bit absurd for Republicans to hold up Kelly as a champion, Cramer said. "People tend to forget that Kelly is a Democrat, he's still a Democrat and Paul Wellstone is a Democrat," he said. "They have a lot more in common than differences."
State Rep. Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, a supporter of both Coleman and Wellstone, said mayoral and statewide elections are like apples and oranges. He pointed out that Coleman won a mayoral re-election bid easily in 1997, then finished third among St. Paul voters, behind DFLer Hubert Humphrey III and Jesse Ventura, when he ran for governor a year later. Coleman finished second overall in that race.
Benanav said the election "wasn't a mandate for anybody."
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