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Sen. Paul Wellstone, 1944-2002
Minnesota Democrat Was Leading Liberal Voice on Capitol Hill

audio icon Listen to Minnesota Public Radio's Tom Shreck report on Tuesday's memorial service for Sen. Paul Wellstone.

audio icon Listen to NPR's Madeleine Brand, David Welna and Cheryl Corley describe reaction to the loss of Sen. Paul Wellstone.

audio icon Listen to NPR's David Welna and Brian Naylor report on Sen. Wellstone's life and untimely death.

Sen. Paul Wellstone
Sen. Paul Wellstone
Photo: U.S. Senate

"I think people realize that there's a lot at stake, and there is. I mean, it's control of the Senate, it's the future direction of the Supreme Court. It's Roe v. Wade. And more importantly than that... decisions are going to be made that are going to affect the quality or lack of quality of our lives and our children -- Sheila and I have six grandchildren -- our grandchildren's lives. Are you going to continue to have these Robin Hood reverse tax cuts, more of them -- or are we going to invest in kids and education and health care?"

Paul Wellstone on the significance of his 2002 re-election campaign, in an interview with Juan Williams for the Aug. 2, 2002, Morning Edition.

Sen. Paul Wellstone with his wife, Sheila
Sen. Paul Wellstone and his wife, Sheila, in an undated photo.
Photo: Sen. Paul Wellstone Senate Web site.

Oct. 25, 2002 -- Sen. Paul Wellstone was killed Friday in a charter jet crash that also took the lives of his wife, Sheila, daughter Marcia, three political aides and the plane's two pilots. Wellstone was 58.

Over the past decade, the Minnesota Democrat evolved from a college professor little known on the national stage to one of the Senate's top liberal voices. He briefly harbored visions of a presidential run.

Paul David Wellstone was born July 21, 1944, the son of immigrant Russian Jews. He grew up in Virginia and moved to Minnesota in 1970. He came to the Senate in 1991 directly from Carleton College, where he taught political science. He ran a classic grassroots campaign, building on his success as a community organizer and racing through the state in a green school bus. Viewed as a major underdog, Wellstone tapped into Minnesota's rich vein of populism and liberalism and became the only challenger to beat an incumbent senator that year.

Wellstone's time in the Senate was marked by devotion to liberal causes, including work on affordable health care, family leave, and a new farm bill. He voted against the Iraq resolution this year. In 1995 he tested presidential waters in the New Hampshire primary. Wellstone was a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the Senate Committee on Veteran's Affairs, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He co-authored successful legislation on health care, mental health treatment, and veteran's affairs.

In February, Wellstone revealed that he had been diagnosed 15 years earlier with what he called a mild case of multiple sclerosis. The health issue did not deter him from politics, and he was involved in a tight re-election battle this fall with Republican Norm Coleman, the former mayor of St. Paul, Minn.

Raised in Arlington, Va., in the shadow of the nation's capital, Wellstone starred as a college wrestler at the University of North Carolina. He earned his bachelor's degree there and later a doctorate in political science.

He moved on to Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., where he taught political science for 21 years before entering the political arena himself.

Paul and Sheila Wellstone were married in 1963 and in recent years had made their home in St. Paul while commuting to Washington, D.C., during Senate sessions. They are survived by two sons and six grandchildren.

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In Depth

audio icon Hear Robert Siegel's report on the close Senate race in Minnesota, from the Oct. 21, 2002, All Things Considered.

audio icon Hear Juan Williams' report on Wellstone and the Minnesota senate race, from the Aug. 2, 2002, Morning Edition.

audio icon Hear Bob Edwards' interview with Sen. Wellstone, from the Jan. 30, 1997, Morning Edition.

more Search for more NPR reports on Sen. Paul Wellstone.

Other Resources

Paul Wellstone's Senate Web site.

Sen. Wellstone's campaign Web site.

Minnesota Public Radio Web site, with additional coverage.