EVELETH, Minn. (AP) - Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone, one of the foremost liberals in Congress, was killed in a plane crash in northern Minnesota on Friday along with his wife, daughter and five others, campaign officials said.
Wellstone, 58, had been in the final days of a tight battle for re-election in a race that could determine control of the Senate.
The twin-engine plane went down in freezing rain and light snow near the Eveleth-Virginia Municipal Airport, about 175 miles north of Minneapolis.
Wellstone (pictured, above) was on his way to the funeral of the father of a state lawmaker.
"It's just terrible. Say a prayer," said Lisa Pattni, an aide who was at the crash site.
All eight people aboard the plane were killed, said Greg Martin, spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration. Campaign officials confirmed the victims included Wellstone's wife, Sheila, and daughter Marcia.
In political terms, Wellstone's death threw the battle for the Senate into uncharted territory. It was unclear whether his name will remain on the ballot with Election Day less than two weeks away.
Wellstone was up against Republican Norm Coleman, a former mayor of St. Paul and President Bush's choice to challenge the two-term incumbent.
A Coleman spokesman, Ben Whitney, said: "Our prayers are with the Wellstone family. That's all I'm going to say."
Two years ago, Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan was killed in a plane crash three weeks before Election Day while running for the Senate. Carnahan's name remained on the ballot and he beat Republican Sen. John Ashcroft. Carnahan's widow, Jean, was appointed to serve in his place and is now seeking election to a full term against Republican Jim Talent.
Before running for office, Wellstone was a professor and community organizer who fused the two passions in a course he taught at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., called "Social Movements and Grassroots Organizing."
He stunned the political establishment when he knocked off Republican Sen. Rudy Boschwitz with a longshot bid for office in 1990. Afterward, left-leaning Mother Jones magazine called him "the first 1960s radical elected to the U.S. Senate."
Wellstone had pledged to stay for no more than two terms, but last year, he announced he would be running again. In February, Wellstone announced he had been diagnosed with a mild form of multiple sclerosis but he said it wouldn't stop his campaign.
"For me, no stress would be stress," he said at the time. "The stress of this campaign is what I want to do, to be perfectly honest. And the stress of being a senator is what I want to do."
He had three children and six grandchildren.
"Sen. Wellstone really is and has been for many years the heartbeat of the DFL (Democratic-Farmer-Labor) Party," said Mike Erlandson, the state party chairman. "He took pride every day in fighting on behalf of the people of Minnesota."
Liberal to the end, Wellstone cast his vote earlier this month against legislation to authorize the use of force in Iraq -- the only Democrat in a competitive race to go against Bush on the issue.
Coleman had depicted Wellstone as an extremist whose left-wing views make him a marginal player in the Senate.