Missouri senator loses seat to dead challenger

By LIBBY QUAID

Associated Press

ST. LOUIS – Missourians elected a dead man to the Senate today, choosing Gov. Mel Carnahan – who perished three weeks ago in a plane crash – over Republican incumbent John Ashcroft. Carnahan’s widow had agreed to take her husband’s place.

With 84 percent of precincts reporting early Wednesday, Carnahan had 1,075,872 votes, or 50 percent. Ashcroft, a Republican, had 1,039,409, or 49 percent.

The plane crash that killed Carnahan, his son and an aide Oct. 16 turned the nationally watched contest against Republican Sen. John Ashcroft from notoriously bitter to decidedly bizarre.

Carnahan died too late to revise the ballot. No one had ever posthumously won election to the Senate, though voters on at least three occasions sent deceased candidates to the House.

Gov. Roger Wilson, who took office after Carnahan’s death, said he would appoint Carnahan’s 66-year-old widow, Jean, to a two-year term should Ashcroft lose. Mrs. Carnahan became the implicit challenger when she declared herself strong enough to accept appointment.

Some Republicans had threatened a court challenge if that happened.

Early Wednesday, as her husband pulled ahead, she addressed hundreds of St. Louis-area supporters by phone from her home in Rolla.

“You have stayed the course; you have kept the faith; you have carried our hopes and dreams,” she said.

“Lincoln never saw his nation made whole again. Susan B. Anthony never cast a vote. Martin Luther King never finished his mountaintop journey. My husband’s journey was cut short, too. And for reasons we don’t understand, the mantle has now fallen upon us,” she said.

Ashcroft, 58, resumed his campaign eight days after the crash, airing his own new TV ad featuring former Sen. John Danforth, a mentor, telling Missourians, “What’s happening today to John Ashcroft is just not right.”

Meanwhile, the late governor’s campaign spent $700,000 to broadcast Mrs. Carnahan making a direct appeal to voters to keep her husband’s vision alive.

She answered a dozen questions in writing from The Associated Press, describing views in favor of abortion rights, gun control and other issues, all reflecting stands by her husband in direct opposition to Ashcroft’s.

In St. Louis today, long lines of voters led a state judge, at Democrats’ request, to order the city to keep its polls open until 10 p.m., three extra hours. A shortage of booths, ballots, judges and equipment had vexed the city throughout the day.

But the Board of Election Commissioners appealed swiftly, and a three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals ordered the polls closed immediately – after they had been open nearly an extra hour.

Both popular vote-getters elected twice as Missouri governor, Carnahan and Ashcroft were politically like night and day.

Ashcroft, a favorite of religious conservatives when he mulled a White House bid, signed restrictive abortion laws as governor that later were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Carnahan, who served one term as Ashcroft’s lieutenant governor and succeeded Ashcroft, vetoed further abortion restrictions as well as concealed-weapons legislation.

For years, Missouri political analysts and observers have remarked on the rancor between the two, although Ashcroft and Carnahan both denied it repeatedly.

Their campaign featured allegations of racism against Ashcroft and a response that included a 40-year-old photo of Carnahan in blackface. They also battled over capital punishment, a controversy generated by Carnahan’s decision, at Pope John Paul II’s behest, to commute a murderer’s death sentence.

Voters seemed well aware of the closeness of the race today.

In downtown Kansas City, 59-year-old Richard Cruse voted for Ashcroft. “It would have been close with Carnahan,” he said, “but I’m not going to vote for a blind spot with no experience.”

Ellen Schimpf, 29, thought differently. She voted for Carnahan. “I’m somebody’s wife, and I know I could step in and take over my husband’s business if I had to,” she said. “I think Jean Carnahan could do it, too.”

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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