Fritz Mondale's solace

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MINNEAPOLIS–If you want to find a retired politician who is happy, thriving, and engaged, say hello to Walter F. Mondale.

Yes, that's the same former Sen. and Vice President Walter Mondale, who lost 49 states to President Ronald Reagan in 1984. To be sure, Fritz Mondale was confronting strong support for an incumbent with a pleasant smile and public persona to match. It was no contest almost from the start.

But Mondale did not brood in defeat.He went on to serve as ambassador to Japan in the Clinton administration and is now associated with a prominent law firm here.

Mondale was also the victim of zealous Democrats when he became the late replacement nominee for Senate in 2002 following the tragic death of Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone. Many in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party believe that, with just days before the election, a few unfortunately turned a memorial service for Wellstone into a partisan rally. Seen on television, it may have given some angry support to Republican nominee Norm Coleman, who edged Mondale in the election.

There is little doubt that a popular Wellstone would have defeated Coleman, who currently holds the seat for the GOP.

As for Mondale, life is good. He keeps up with state and national politics and is consulted by the younger folks in the party for his knowledge.

In fact, a protégé of his, DFLer Amy Klobuchar, should soon hold the seat being vacated by the retiring Sen. Mark Dayton.

A powerful memory of Mondale in action was the 1976 vice presidential debate with Republican Bob Dole. Republicans were convinced that theslash-and-burn tactics of Dole would overwhelm Mondale. The reverse was true.

When Dole insisted on labeling previous wars as "Democrat wars," Mondale rose to the situation. He said sternly that Dole richly deserved the title of "hatchet man" of the GOP. The debate was essentially over. Mondale helped presidential nominee Jimmy Carter and Dole hurt President Ford.

Mondale, at 78, is a fit and content man. He still takes long fishing trips to the north and stays trim with long walks around the lake at his suburban home in Lake of the Isles.

He enjoys his family. And the best news is that daughter Eleanor is recovering from a bout with cancer.