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Democratic Senate campaign to focus on Mel Carnahan

October 31, 2000
By: Lauren Shepherd
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - One day after Jean Carnahan's dramatic annoucement, campaign aides for the Democratic campaign for the U.S. Senate say they still are unsure how to proceed in the last week of the campaign.

For Jean Carnahan, the final days of the election season are an exercise in guesswork, with campaign and party officials attempting to devise a strategy for the non-candidate in the U.S. Senate race.

Carnahan campaign communications director Tony Wyche said the campaign is "operating strictly on a day to day basis."

Wyche said they are holding daily meetings to determine how to run the campaign. Jean Carnahan, the Carnahan family and campaign staff met Monday after Jean Carnahan announced she would accept the appointment if her husband wins the race. Wyche said talk centered around what message the campaign wanted to convey.

"We're talking to her about what she wants to do," he said. "We're going to be out there encouraging people to vote for Mel."

He said the campaign will not focus on Jean Carnahan. Instead, he said they will tell people they "still have a choice" and can vote for Mel Carnahan on election day.

In this campaign, "there are the same challenges that you'd find if you were asked to build a rocket to the moon when you've never seen one or knew anything about building a spacecraft," added Roy Temple, executive director of the state Democratic party. "You're doing something that's never been done before."

"You have to kind of feel your way along," he added.

Although he said the campaign has not yet decided on a campaign schedule or an advertising strategy, Temple did say they have decided to keep the focus on Mel Carnahan by reminding voters they still have a choice in the election.

Jean Carnahan announced Monday at her home in Rolla that she will accept Gov. Roger Wilson's appointment to the Senate if her husband, Mel Carnahan, recieves the most votes in the election against Republican incumbent Sen. John Ashcroft.

Mel Carnahan, his son, Roger, and a campaign aide died in a plane crash on Oct. 16 near St. Louis on the way to a campaign event. The governor's name will remain on the ballot and if he is elected, Jean Carnahan will be appointed to a two-year term in the Senate until the next election.

The situation for the Carnahan campaign staff is unique since no U.S. Senate candidate has ever died so soon before the election requiring that the deceased person's name remain on the ballot. Wives, though, have taken office for their husbands who died while serving a term in the legislature.

Temple said reminding voters they can vote for Mel Carnahan will be a central message in the campaign, adding that the Republicans have attempted to confuse voters about what will happen if Mel Carnahan's name recieves the most votes.

"There's been an attempt by others to confuse people and mislead people about how this will work," he said.

Temple said Jean Carnahan will promote the same issues as her husband, such as education, covering prescription drugs for the elderly under the Medicare program and protecting social security.

"There's no need for a 'new message' quote, unquote," he said.

Wyche said the campaign will continue mailing letters to Democrats asking them to vote for Mel Carnahan and passing out buttons saying "I'm still with Mel". But he said, as of Tuesday, they have no plans to begin advertising on television.

Rick Hardy, University of Missouri political science professor, said a well-delivered and taseteful television ad could create a groundswell of support for Jean Carnahan.

"I think she has to do a wholesale campaign and not a retail campaign," Hardy said. "In a retail campaign, you go out and press the flesh. She just doesn't have the time for that."

He said the Carnahan campaign team has a difficult job to do since they do not want to alienate voters by campaigning too vigorously. But he said Ashcroft may be in an even tougher spot.

"He's in a political straightjacket," Hardy said.

Ashcroft has been using issue-oriented television ads which do not mention Mel Carnahan. Tuesday, he began a state-wide bus trip to discuss issues with voters, called the "Show Me Experience Express."

But Hardy said that although both candidates can focus on issues, the campaign is no longer issue-oriented -- a fact both candidates could attempt to use to their own advantage.

"Both sides can talk issues if they want, but that's not what's happening," he said. "It's an emotional issue."