Updated October 17, 2000 -- Democratic candidate for the Senate, Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan, was killed in a plane crash Oct. 16 with less than one month remaining in a close and bitterly fought Senate race. Carnahan, his son, and a campaign advisor were killed when their plane crashed in rain and fog 30 miles outside of Saint Louis. The governor was on his way to a rally for his Senate campaign to unseat Republican Senator John Ashcroft, a longtime rival.
Carnahan's name will remain on the ballot as the Democratic candidate for the Senate. If a majority of voters cast ballots for Carnahan, Democratic Lt. Gov. Roger Wilson, who is serving out the remainder of Carnahan's term, will appoint someone to fill the vacancy.
Carnahan, son of a U.S. Congressman who was also ambassador to Sierra Leone, was born and raised in Missouri's rural Ozarks. Carnahan married his high school sweetheart, Jean; together they raised four children. After graduating from George Washington University, Carnahan served for two years in the Air Force where he was assigned to the Office of Special Investigations. He enrolled in the law school at the University of Missouri. After graduation, Carnahan practiced law for five years in Rolla, MO before being elected a municipal court judge in 1961 at the age of 26.
Carnahan's political career took off when he was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives in 1962 and became majority leader in his second term. In 1967, after losing a bid for a state senate seat, Carnahan returned to his law practice in Rolla and worked on local projects including the construction of a new high school.
Carnahan kept a low profile for the next 10 years. He re-entered politics in 1980 when he was elected state treasurer and served in the position for four years. In 1988, Carnahan was elected lieutenant governor of Missouri, second in command to Republican Gov. John Ashcroft, the man Carnahan was running against in the 2000 Senate campaign.
In 1992, Carnahan beat State Attorney General William Webster for the governorship, 59 to 41 percent. During his first term Carnahan cemented his reputation as a traditional Democrat by increasing taxes to fund improvements to public schools, vetoing a bill to restrict access to abortions, and backing a initiative requiring voter approval for tax increases of more than $50 million.
However the legislature rejected his proposal to require health insurance companies to disregard pre-existing conditions. When he ran for re-election in 1996, Carnahan received 57 percent of the vote, easily beating Republican auditor Margaret Kelly. During his second term, Carnahan pushed though a children's health insurance plan with wider coverage than most states. He has also received national attention for his welfare-to-work program. With help from a strong economy, the program moved 26,000 people off of welfare from 1994-1996.
Barred from seeking third term as governor, Carnahan was seeking to continue in Missouri politics as the state's junior senator.
Carnahan said that the words of Adlai Stevenson had inspired him to devote his life to public service. "As a youth, I remember Stevenson saying public service was a 'high calling' and urging young people to get involved," recalled Carnahan. "I am still enough of an idealist to believe he was right."