Is He Nuts?

Turncoat. Chickenshit. Radical. Minnesota's senior senator has been called a lot of things. But president?

The crowd seizes on his slip and whoops its approval. He's on his own turf, and savors the homecoming for all it's worth. He hits on universal health care. Rails against corporate interests and the favors granted them by government. Decries a wage scale that forces workers to hold down two jobs to make ends meet. He races on, to the global economy, national defense, terrorism, human rights, until it seems the onslaught blurs and suddenly bogs him down.

He pauses, hesitating and glancing down at his notes for guidance. For someone who rarely speaks with so much as a scrap of paper, it's an odd moment. But this is still a dry run. He is still practicing, still ironing out the language, getting the rhythm of his message down. Paul Wellstone, for president, is just now finding his bearings. He's gearing up for giving some version of this speech for at least the next 16 months.

"Tonight I am with a group of activists who have helped me. And since I'm speaking to a group of political activists who have done so much in your lives, you know there are no guarantees..."

His voice starts to crack as he winds down; he's almost pleading now, as he preaches to the converted while acknowledging that he can't foretell the outcome.

"...because you also know by your own lives that politics isn't about observations or predictions--politics is about what we create by what we do, by what we hope for and what we dare to imagine..."

For this crowd, he can do no wrong: The fact that Wellstone is even mounting the race, or thinking about it, seems like a victory in itself. The "Run, Paul, run!" chant resumes. Wellstone grabs a youngster clutching a toy green bus and holds the child aloft--the quintessential campaign-trail image. Then the cameras, the lights, the notebooks close in around him.

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