U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone has been killed in a plane crash in his home state of Minnesota. Mr. Wellstone, one of the most liberal Democrats in the Senate, had been locked in a tight race for re-election, less than two weeks before election day.
Mr. Wellstone was killed along with his wife, a daughter, and three staff members when his plane, a twin-engine turboprop, went down in northeastern Minnesota in freezing rain.
The 58-year-old Senator, seeking his third term in the Senate, was locked in a tight race against Republican challenger Norm Coleman ahead of the November 5 elections.
His death throws into question the Democrats' one-seat majority in the Senate. It is not clear whether Mr. Wellstone's name will remain on the ballot.
Mr. Wellstone was one of the most liberal and unconventional members of the Senate. He passionately fought for the rights of working Americans. President Bush took a moment from his summit with Chinese President Jiang Zemin in Crawford, Texas, to remember the senator. "Paul Wellstone was a man of deep convictions, a plain-spoken fellow, who did his best for his state and for his country," said Mr. Bush.
Senator Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who was campaigning for Mr. Wellstone in Minnesota, said he is devastated by the news.
"Paul Wellstone had a passion for the good things, for people," he said. "He expressed it brilliantly before the United States Senate, and here in Minnesota. He was a man of enormous ability, but most of all he was a caring person."
Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott said Mr. Wellstone's death is 'a death in the family' for the U.S. Senate.
The senator's death recalls a similar incident two years ago in Missouri, when Governor Mel Carnahan, a Democratic Senate candidate, died in a plane crash in bad weather just weeks before the election. Mr. Carnahan was elected after his death and his widow, Jean, was appointed to take his seat.
Senator Carnahan reacted to the death of Mr. Wellstone, saying 'a proud and passionate voice for working people has been silenced.'
Prior to his election to the Senate in 1990, Mr. Wellstone was a political science professor at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.
He was the son of Russian immigrants.