Carleton College student newspaper profile
The Carletonian, February 24, 1989
Would we still be able to call him Paul...or would he become Senator Wellstone?...so many things to think about if he runs for U.S. Senate in 1990.
Paul Wellstone has been a professor of political science at Carleton since 1969, but in the past few weeks rumors of his departure have been hovering more thickly in the air than the odor of Malt-O-Meal.
"I have talked with a lot of friends, people involved with politics in the state, and they've been asking me to run for public office. Three weeks ago I told some close friends that I was thinking about running, and soon the rumor was out," Wellstone said. "But whether I run or not for the U.S. Senate depends on a lot of factors."
The decision has to be made by June, but if he decides to run, "I won't take off until fall of '90, so next year would be my last year," he said.
Wellstone has large questions to ponder before he makes his decision. "I have to think about what kind of mood people will be in in the state in 1990," he explained, "if they're not in the mood for change then someone representing my point of view can't win. But there are no sure bets."
"Then there's the ‘injustice' of it all," he added, "if you're not in politics or not independently wealthy and run you can't just give up your job. The money problem is always there- even if I can get the support of the DFL it'll be tough."
On top of all these issues is the question of the competition Wellstone will be facing. "Walter Mondale is possibly thinking of running for the Democratic spot," Wellstone said, "and Rudy Boschowitz [the incumbent Republican] will probably have a ten million dollar campaign fund in his favor."
"There's no way I can raise that sort of money given the issues I support and the people I know," he added.
Wellstone really started getting involved in party politics in 1982. Since then, he has co-chaired the Jesse Jackson and Michael Dukakis campaigns in the state, and has run twice for the state Democratic convention chair. "One of the best parts is that a high percentage of people I work with in politics are Carleton students," he added. "That's great to see."
On that note, the optimistic gleam returned to his eye. "I would love doing this," he said, "It would be a truly unorthodox campaign with a heavy emphasis on stump speaking...if there were a train we'd take that. It's not going to be a campaign that would capture the imagination of the people."
"It won't be marginal or quaint but a very serious effort," Wellstone said. "It'll be a real populist campaign making a big issue of money dominating politics, because we need to directly deal with the issue and confront it. It's not true that we all have and equal voice in government."
"Big contributors to campaigns make all that disproportionate," he added. Wellstone will have to counter his opponents' larger campaign funds with his eloquence as a speaker. In January, Mpls/St. Paul Magazine named him "Best Speaker of the Twin Cities."
Wellstone admitted that he was pleased by the magazine's recognition, but was quick on the defense against those who might say that his frenetic speaking schedule of two or three engagements a week for the last ten years was based on the thought of eventually running for office.
"For me, speaking is a way to organize and work for what I believe in and to encourage people's involvement," he said. "I was doing that long before I thought about running for office, and I will continue to long after. I cross my heart-I had no secret agenda."
Wellstone travels around the state to speak at gatherings of groups from students to farmers. "Our 3-year-old car has 70,000 miles on it," he said, "and I know someone in practically every town in Minnesota."
But foremost he's still a professor at Carleton. Next term Wellstone will be teaching a class entitled "Social Movements and Protest Politics." A class which he described as an "extension of how I spend a good part of my life, the class I truly love to teach."
Students will have an opportunity to not only learn from him, but to hear from outside speakers such as union workers, lawyers, and politicians. "It's good to get a feel from the people in the trenches," he said.
Even if he makes his decision to run for the United States Senate, Wellstone offers some words of solace. "I've never looked at my involvement in politics as being gone for good," he said. "If I run, and come back...I'll know more and have more to contribute to classes."
And his potential campaign looms ever closer, he is pondering his techniques..."Right around election time," he said, "I'll be reminding my former students who live in Minnesota of all the high grades I gave them when they were here..."