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Wilson to address U.S. Senate questions

October 23, 2000
By: Clayton Bellamy
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Gov. Roger Wilson Tuesday morning will address the issue of who will stand-in for Mel Carnahan in the U.S. Senate race amid a groundswell of support from key Democrats for the late governor's widow, Jean Carnahan.

Wilson's office advised reporters the governor would hold a news conference Tuesday "to discuss matters involving the United States Senate race." It is unclear if he will announce who he would appoint to replace Mel Carnahan if the late governor garners more votes than opponent Sen. John Ashcroft.

State Auditor Claire McCaskill said Monday that Democrats are unanymously hoping Jean Carnahan is willing to make the race.

"I know what the Democratic Party wants to do, I don't know whether or not that will become a fact," McCaskill said. "I think there is unanimity among everyone that Jean would be the ideal person if she is willing to step into the role of the candidate for the U.S. Senate. All of us have our fingers crossed and are praying that she will agree to it."

Missouri's other female statewide officeholder, Secretary of State Bekki Cook, joined McCaskill in supporting the first lady.

"The strong and overwhelming preference is for Jean going forward if she can," Cook said. "The big question is, can she and would she do this for all of us, including Mel Carnahan?"

A spokesman in the governor's office said Jean Carnahan was unavailable for comment.

However, Democratic Party executive director Roy Temple told KMOX Radio in St. Louis that he has not spoken with the first lady about entering the race.

"I'm not really prepared to engage in speculation," Temple said. Jean Carnahan "cares very deeply about the issues Gov. Mel Carnahan has worked on, but she also has an awful lot of issues in her own life to sort through so I don't think it would be fair to her to speculate about what her ultimate conclusion might be."

McCaskill said the party is not considering any other candidate.

"I don't think any of us are seriously comtemplating or strategizing any other alternative besides Jean Carnahan," she said.

If Mel Carnahan, whose name remains on the ballot, gets more votes than incumbent Ashcroft, Wilson will appoint someone to serve in the late governor's stead until 2002.

Should Wilson not announce his prospective appointee Tuesday, Temple said the reality of the calendar means an announcement will come soon.

"In the very near future Governor Wilson will make his thoughts known on this," Temple said. "While there is a very strong reality that this is a very fresh tragedy, there is also a strong corresponding reality that there is an election two weeks from" Tuesday.

Mel Carnahan died alongside his son, Roger, and a key campaign aide, Chris Sifford, in a plane crash last Monday. The three were en route to a campaign rally in New Madrid, Mo.

At Friday's memorial service, many remembrance speeches were tinted with political undertones and some, at times, seemed directed at urging the first lady to run.

Carnahan's daughter, Robin, assured her father that the family "wouldn't let the fire go out." That phrasing has become a sort of slogan for whoever will step in the race.

A Social Services Department memo from director Steven Renne said Jean Carnahan asked state employees still wearing black ribbons to wear new, red ones. The red, the memo said, is intended to signify that the fire won't go out.

State Treasurer and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bob Holden's campaign also borrowed the slogan, issuing a press release with "we won't let the fire burn out" strung out across the top.

Historically, widows running in the place of their husbands have been a virtual slam dunk.

The prospect of facing a martyr in Jean Carnahan apparently has motivated Ashcroft and the Republicans to renew their campaign.

Despite an earlier comment from the GOP's executive director that the race is over, Ashcroft campaigned at a St. Louis homeless shelter Monday morning.

"You can sit around and speculate but nobody really knows how this is going to turn out, but Ashcroft has earned a vote of confidence from the people from how he has served in the Senate," the executive director, John Hancock, said on KMOX.