Mondale says he will run in place of dead senator

The former vice-president Walter Mondale announced his readiness to run for senator of Minnesota yesterday after an emotional memorial service for Paul Wellstone, whose death in an aircraft crash last week created the Democrat vacancy.

A number of high-profile figures including former president Bill Clinton and the 2000 presidential candidate Al Gore were among 20,000 people who attended a memorial service for Mr Wellstone on Tuesday night that turned into an impassioned rally at which his friends vowed to fight to elect the person who will replace him. That is almost certainly Mr Mondale, 74, who was vice-president for Jimmy Carter.

Mr Mondale was present at the three-hour memorial service at the University of Minnesota, where foot-stomping cheers broke out.

Mr Wellstone, who died with his wife and several officials while campaigning in the north-west of the state, was considered one of the most liberal politicians on Capitol Hill.

His friend and campaign treasurer, Rick Kahn, spoke to the crowd. "If Paul Wellstone's legacy in the Senate comes to an end just days after this unspeakable tragedy, our spirits will be crushed and we will drown in a river of tears. We are begging you: do not let this happen," he said.

A poll showed yesterday that Mr Mondalehad a lead of more than eight points over his Republican opponent, Norm Coleman, even though he had not yet formally entered the race. The lead is the same as that held by Mr Wellstone before his death.

Democrat party officials said they had spoken to Mr Mondale, who told them of his willingness to run and said he had dispatched the necessary registration documents yesterday morning. He was expected to receive their formal endorsement last night.

In a letter to the state Democratic Party chairman, Mike Erlandson, Mr Mondale wrote: "It is with a heavy heart but a great hope for the future that I will pick up the campaign where Paul Wellstone left off. Paul cannot be replaced. No one can. But his passion for Minnesotans and their needs can inspire us to continue the work he began."

Mr Wellstone's son David asked Mr Mondale last Saturday to make the run, saying his father would have wanted it. But Mr Mondale deferred an announcement until after the memorial service.

Terry McAuliffe, national chairman of the Democratic Party, called Walter Mondale "a great statesman" and said he would "continue on with the legacy of Paul Wellstone".