WASHINGTON – Faced with the prospect of becoming the vice presidential nominee back in 2008, Joe Biden turned to Walter Mondale.
The president detailed his longstanding friendship with the man he called "a dear friend and mentor" in a White House statement late Monday, following the news that Mondale had died at 93.
"When President Obama asked me to consider being his vice president, Fritz was my first call and trusted guide," Biden recalled about the decision in 2008 that would change his life. "He not only took my call, he wrote me a memo. It was Walter Mondale who defined the vice presidency as a full partnership, and helped provide a model for my service."
The relationship between Mondale and Biden goes back decades, Biden said, to when he was a freshman U.S. senator and the more senior Minnesotan "was one of the first people to greet" the Delaware Democrat. And Biden recounted that in the days before Mondale's death, he and the first lady spoke to Mondale and his family "to reflect on the years of friendship we shared, and how much we learned from and leaned on each other."
Biden and other political leaders marked the passing of a legendary figure in Minnesota and Democratic politics. Some pointed to the ways Mondale elevated the role of the vice president from being a punchline in jokes to the stature it holds today as a key influence on how an administration operates.
The White House announced that U.S. flags would be flown at half-staff for Mondale. Mondale's family said Friday that they are planning memorials for Minnesota and Washington, D.C., sometime in September.
Former President Barack Obama praised Mondale in a tweet as a leader who "championed progressive causes and changed the role of VP — so leaders like Joe Biden could be the last ones in the room when decisions were made."
And Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, who represents Minnesota's Eighth Congressional District, described Mondale as a "true public servant who will long be remembered for his integrity and compassion."
"He put Minnesota on the map of politics and our entire state will always be proud of him," Stauber tweeted.
Mondale's influence can still be felt in Washington today. On the Senate floor Tuesday morning, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke about the Minnesotan who was "a giant of Democratic politics."
"Vice President Mondale will be remembered as a lion of progressive politics," Schumer said. "An ardent defender of civil rights, aid to schoolchildren, child care, health care and consumer protections."
Other lawmakers shared personal connections. Republican state Rep. Bjorn Olson noted in a news release that he now "lives in the same Elmore house where Mondale grew up."
"You didn't have to agree with Vice President Mondale's politics to admire his decency, love for family, and passion for the state of Minnesota," Olson said in his statement. He described Mondale as "the pride of his hometown of Elmore and a legend in Minnesota politics."
Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, who worked on Mondale's 1984 run for president, detailed on Twitter how before the Iowa caucuses, he "explained to Fritz that my father had stopped talking to me 5 years earlier."
Later in the primary season, Mondale won Pennsylvania's primary on his way to capturing the Democratic nomination.
The night of the victory, Trippi remembered being told, "Fritz wants to see you before he goes down to the ballroom to make his victory speech, get up here quick." He found Mondale "sitting down and explaining to an old Italian guy 'that his son was in an honorable profession.' "
"He had somehow gotten someone to locate my dad and get him to Philadelphia to be there on Primary night and bring us together to reconcile," Trippi tweeted. "I still tear up thinking about this moment of my life that shows the kind of man" Mondale was.
Hunter Woodall • 612-673-4559