Paul Wellstone was widely regarded as one of the most conscientious and progressive voices in the US Senate throughout the 1990s. Usually he was among a small group of Senators like Russ Feingold and Paul Sarbanes to receive near perfect ratings from progressive policy groups such as the ACLU and Common Cause. He consistently refused any PAC money for his campaigns, set a $100 limit on other contributions.
Wellstone grew up in Virginia and attended the University of North Carolina on a wrestling scholarship, having scored less than 800 on the SAT (he was later diagnosed with a learning disability). However, he excelled in college, eventually earning a PhD in political science. Having been married at age 19, with two children by the time he graduated, Wellstone largely missed out on the campus activism of the late 1960s.
Wellstone taught political science at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, before being elected to the senate in 1990 in a grassroots campaign, defeating the Republican incumbent Rudy Boschwitz, who had a campaign war chest of $7 million (large for that time). He was seen as the most liberal person to be elected to the Senate since the 1960s. During his first term he advocated for a single payer Universal Health Care system long after the Democratic party had abandoned advocating even a complicated managed care system. His pressing questions once led a clueless George Bush Sr. to remark "Who is this chickenshit?"
Wellstone was re-elected in 1996, and became a prominent voice against the fascist so-called "free trade" agreements that were the flavor of the day. He earned the respect of many of his colleagues, and decided to run again in 2002, despite having previously given the impression that he would only serve two terms.
Paul Wellstone appeared headed to another victory in the 2002 general election when, along with his wife and daughter, he boarded a plane bound for northern Minnesota and the funeral of a friend. In the plane crash, America lost one of its sanest and most principled voices.