Carnahan's Widow to 'Enter' Missouri Sen. Race

ByABC News
October 24, 2000, 9:05 AM

Oct. 24 -- If the late Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan receives more votes than incumbent Republican Sen. John Ashcroft on Election Day, his widow will be appointed as senator.

Should Mel Carnahan receive the largest number of votes in the election, new Missouri Gov. Roger Wilson announced today, it is my intention to ask Jean Carnahan if she would fill [the] term.

Last Monday, the Democratic governor was killed in a plane crash that also claimed the lives of his son, Randy, and political aide Chris Sifford. Mrs. Carnahan has not said publicly whether she would agree to a Senate appointment, but she heightened speculation while delivering Siffords eulogy on Sunday, urging mourners: Dont let the fire go out.

Wilson, who served as lieutenant-governor under Carnahan, said this morning that Mrs. Carnahan was the right person to fill her husbands senate seat if he wins in November.

They were a team, he said. There is really no other person that has been near all of the critical issues as much as she has.

National Implications

Mel Carnahan was in a tight and bitter race with Ashcroft, a Senate freshman and himself a former governor. Polls showed the two candidates locked in a virtual dead heat all the way up until Carnahans death.

Because his death came so close to the Nov. 7 election, Carnahans name will remain on the ballot. If he were to outpoll Ashcroft, Wilson would appoint an interim senator who would serve until Missouris next general election in November 2002.

Its not at all unusual or unprecedented in American politics to have someone whos died be elected, says ABCNEWS political director Mark Halperin. In this case it would have real practical significance, because it could lead to Democrats taking back a Senate seat in their quest to retake control of the Senate overall.

The Missouri race had long been seen as a key contest in the battle for control of the Senate, where the GOP currently holds a 54-46 advantage. Democrats were hopeful todays announcement would re-energize Carnahans supporters and boost the chances of defeating Ashcroft.