Home>Congress>Mel Carnahan, John Ashcroft — and Anthony M. Bucco

Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft speaks at Knox College in 2008. Photo by Andy Fitz.

Mel Carnahan, John Ashcroft — and Anthony M. Bucco

How Missouri Democrats beat a U.S. Senator with a dead candidate by being completely transparent

By David Wildstein, September 25 2019 2:47 pm

When Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan was killed in a plane crash three weeks before the 2000 General Election, he was the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate against incumbent John Ashcroft in a race that pollsters said was too close to call.

Too late to change candidates, Gov. Roger Wilson – he had been Lt. Governor and next in the line of succession – announced his intention to appoint Carnahan’s widow to the seat if the late governor still won.   Missouri voters were told exactly what would happen if they voted for a deceased candidate instead of Ashcroft.

Jean Carnahan, who lost a husband and son in the crash, said she would accept the nomination, but she did not campaign for the post.

Posthumously, Carnahan defeated Ashcroft by less than 50,000 votes, 50.5% to 48.4%.

Transparency was critical in that race.

Wilson appointed the former First Lady, who held the seat for nearly two years before losing a 2002 Special Election by less than 22,00 votes, 49.8%-47.7%.

In New Jersey, Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton) is headed into uncharted waters as he prepares to take the State Senate seat of his father, Anthony R. Bucco (R-Boonton), who died of a massive heart attack last week at age 81.

Instead of dropping his own re-election campaign for an Assembly seat, Bucco decided to remain in the race.  He’s asking voters to essentially trust Republican county committee members to pick an unknown replacement after the election, if he wins.

It’s a trade for a player-to-be-named-later.

When New Jersey passed a new law last year to allow Cory Booker to run simultaneously for re-election to the United States Senate and for President or Vice President, Bucco was one of 26 Assembly Republicans who voted against the measure.

A Monmouth University Poll released last week shows that voters appear to agree with Bucco.

Nearly half (49%) of New Jerseyans polled said that Booker should just run for national office – if the opportunity arises – and walk away from his Senate seat.  Just 29% thought he should run for both.

That’s not apples to apples as it relates to the Bucco re-election campaign, but it does shed some light on voter attitudes – something that is causing some Republicans to wonder if running for the Assembly while serving in the Senate is a smart one.

When Bob Torricelli dropped his U.S. Senate re-election bid in 2002, Democrats went directly to the New Jersey Supreme Court to seek permission to replace him on the ballot.  They said yes, creating a path for Frank Lautenberg to return to Washington.

That landmark case has forever changed New Jersey politics, causing statutory deadlines to be completely fungible

Imagine if Torricelli had said that while he was ending his campaign, voters should still vote for him and trust Gov. James E. McGreevey to appoint a new Senator-to-be named later.

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