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After Carnahan: Campaigns That Outlive Candidates
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, October 20, 2000

Question: Can the Democrats still win the Senate seat in Missouri if a well-known Democrat like former senator Tom Eagleton steps into the ring as a stand-in for the late Gov. Mel Carnahan? – Elmore Lockley, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Answer: First, a word about Gov. Carnahan. The state, needless to say, is still in shock over his death. He was a popular official who won statewide office four times, the first Democratic governor to win reelection since the 1960s. The plane crash that took his life, along with his son and a top aide, also robbed the Democrats of one of their best chances to pick up a Senate seat -- and perhaps, some say, control of the Senate in the process.

Carnahan's death could doom the entire Democratic ticket in Missouri. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
As for your question, Carnahan's death came too late for the Democrats to replace him on the ballot, where he was running in a bitter and tight contest against GOP Sen. John Ashcroft. So no one, Eagleton or anyone else, can become the party's replacement nominee. There are two scenarios that could result from this. The first one is that Carnahan's death will so demoralize the Democrats that they stay home on November 7, giving up not only on the Senate race but also on the gubernatorial contest and, more importantly, the presidential race. Missouri's 11 electoral votes have been aggressively sought by both Al Gore and George W. Bush, and in a race that has all the indications of going down to the wire, the Show Me State could be crucial. Historically, it's one of the true bellwether states, having gone with the presidential winner in every election since 1900 but one. (In 1956, Missouri voters went for Adlai Stevenson over Dwight D. Eisenhower.)

The other scenario is that Missouri Democrats vote for Carnahan. Many Democrats are hoping that acting Gov. Roger Wilson (D) will announce soon that if Carnahan wins, Wilson will appoint the late governor's widow Jean to fill the seat until a special election could be held in two years. Getting the party faithful to vote for a deceased candidate is problematic though not unprecedented. Both Reps. Nick Begich (D-Alaska) in 1972 and Clem Miller (D-Calif.) in 1962 were killed in plane crashes a month before the election, and Democratic leaders urged a "tribute" vote for them, and both won. Most observers agree that unless Missouri's Wilson announces something dramatic like promising he will appoint Carnahan's widow, Ashcroft will be a shoo-in for re-election.

Carnahan's death reminded many of another tragedy that hurt Democratic chances at winning a Senate seat in Missouri. On Aug. 3, 1976, the very night that Rep. Jerry Litton won the Democratic primary to succeed retiring Sen. Stuart Symington (D), he was killed - along with his wife and their two children - in a plane crash on the way to a victory celebration. Democrats immediately fell into disarray, and their replacement nominee, who lost badly to Litton in the primary, was defeated in November by Republican John Danforth.

(A special thanks to Bob Levine of St. Louis, who provided the Carnahan buttons for this column.)

Question: Has a presidential candidate ever died during the last 3-6 months prior to the election? If, let's say, Al Gore dropped dead tomorrow, would the election still be held with Joe Lieberman running as president, or would it be put on hold until the Democrats could name another candidate? – Jane Ballard, Colonial Heights, Va.

Answer: A ghoulish hypothetical question but an important one nevertheless. The rules of both the Democratic and Republican national committees stipulate that in the event of the death of its presidential nominee prior to the election, the committees are authorized to name a replacement. It's a fair guess that should either Gore or Bush meet an untimely demise, their replacement(s) would be their respective running mates, Lieberman or Dick Cheney.

Vice President Sherman, who died one week before election day in 1912, was not replaced on the ticket. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
A presidential nominee has never died prior to Election Day. However, Vice President James Sherman, running for reelection with President William Howard Taft, died on Oct. 30, 1912. He was not replaced on the ticket, which finished a poor third in the election. In 1972, George McGovern's choice as the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, the same Sen. Eagleton of Missouri asked about in today's first question, withdrew from the ticket. The Democratic National Committee met in a Washington, D.C., hotel eight days later and officially nominated Sargent Shriver as Eagleton's replacement.

By the way, there was some confusion with my July 7 answer about what would happen if the winning presidential candidate died before the electors got together (at their non-existent college) to make it all official. The correct answer is that electors could theoretically vote for anyone they wanted, but in reality they would probably vote for the nominee named by the party's national committee, most likely the winning vice-presidential candidate. This also never happened before. But three weeks after the 1872 election - and a week before the electors were to meet - defeated Democratic presidential nominee Horace Greeley died. Nearly all of the 66 electors that were pledged to Greeley voted for other Democrats. Three of the 66 voted for Greeley but Congress refused to count them.

Question: Who will win the major Senate races this year and thus control the Senate in the 107th Congress? – Tino E., Princeton, N.J.

Answer: Next week's column will look at the battle for control of Congress in detail. In the meantime, here's how I see the Senate races at this point.


Republican Retention (14): Ashcroft (Mo.), Burns (Mont.), Chafee (R.I.), DeWine (Ohio), Frist (Tenn.), Hatch (Utah), Hutchison (Texas), Jeffords (Vt.), Kyl (Ariz.), Lott (Miss.), Lugar (Ind.), Santorum (Pa.), Snowe (Maine), Thomas (Wyo.).

Republican Losses (3): Open Florida (Mack retiring), Grams (Minn.), Roth (Del.).

Tossups (2): Abraham (Mich.), Gorton (Wash.).


Democrat Retention (13): Akaka (Hawaii), Bingaman (N.M.), Byrd (W.Va.), Conrad (N.D.), Feinstein (Calif.), Kennedy (Mass.), Kohl (Wis.), Lieberman (Conn.), Miller (Ga.), Open Nebraska (Kerrey retiring), Open New Jersey (Lautenberg retiring), Open New York (Moynihan retiring), Sarbanes (Md.).

Democrat Losses (2): Open Nevada (Bryan retiring), Robb (Va.).

Republicans currently have a 54-46 hold on the Senate. By my estimates, Democrats gain between 1 and 3 three seats in November. That would still leave the GOP in control with no less than 51 seats, even if Democrats won both tossup races, which shows exactly why the Carnahan-Ashcroft race was so central to the party's hopes. But it would also leave the closest margin in the Senate in nearly a half century.

By this calculation, Democrats should pick up anywhere between one and three seats – not enough to regain control, but making the party lineup in the Senate closer than it's been in nearly a half century.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

© Copyright 2000 Ken Rudin

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