The governor of Minnesota has appointed an Independent to complete the term of Democrat Senator Paul Wellstone, who was killed last month in a plane crash. That assures the U.S. Senate will remain equally divided between Democrats and Republicans for now.
Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura has chosen fellow Independence Party member Dean Barkley as interim senator. Mr. Barkley ran for the seat in 1992 and 1996, and becomes a potentially important swing vote in the Senate, which now has 49 Republicans, 49 Democrats and two independents.
"I do not really care which party controls the U.S. Senate right now. I could care less whether it is Democrats or Republicans," Mr. Barkley said. "What I care about is what I can do for the State of Minnesota, and I will use my position the best I can to forward that principle."
Mr. Barkley says he does not know which party he will vote with on legislation. The senate's other independent, James Jeffords of Vermont, usually sides with Democrats.
After the death of Democrat Paul Wellstone, Governor Ventura had said he would probably appoint a Democrat in his place. But, after attending a memorial service for Mr. Wellstone that took on the air of a Democratic Party rally, the governor said he would keep all his options open.
His announcement came as Mr. Wellstone's replacement on Tuesday's ballot, Democrat Walter Mondale, was debating Republican Norm Coleman. Governor Ventura was clearly upset that his Independence Party candidate, Jim Moore, was not invited to participate.
"Three very powerful institutions - the Republican Party, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and the Minnesota media - are conspiring to limit the hard-earned rights of ordinary citizens to rise up and compete for elected office," he said.
Polls suggest Mr. Mondale and Mr. Coleman are in a tight race for the Senate.