- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2000

ST. LOUIS Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan died in a plane crash late Monday night, casting a pall over the third presidential debate in the host state and shifting the political outlook for control of the U.S. Senate.

Mr. Carnahan, 66, a Democrat who was locked in a tight race to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. John Ashcroft, was killed when the twin-engine Cessna crashed in a heavy rainstorm about 25 miles south of St. Louis.

The governor was on his way from St. Louis, where he had attended a warm-up debate rally for Vice President Al Gore, to a fund-raiser in New Madrid, Mo.

Also killed were the governor's son, Roger "Randy" Carnahan, 44, who was piloting the plane, and Christopher Sifford, the governor's senior campaign adviser. There were no survivors.

The pilot had reportedly tried to return to St. Louis after encountering bad weather, but the plane disappeared from the radar screen at Lambert International Airport at 8:33 p.m. EDT. Witnesses reported hearing the plane's engines whining and then heard an explosion.

Investigators said the wreckage was spread over a wide area of the remote, steep, rocky landscape, but the cause of the crash was not immediately known.

As Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board investigators began combing the wooded crash site, praise for the two-term governor poured in from both sides of the political spectrum. President Clinton, in Egypt, telephoned Mr. Carnahan's widow, Jean, to offer his condolences, as did Mr. Gore.

Mr. Ashcroft's campaign immediately suspended all advertising "out of respect for Governor Carnahan and his family," Ashcroft campaign manager David Ayres said.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore also canceled Missouri campaign events, and as a sign of respect temporarily pulled their television ads.

Mr. Gore said he is deeply saddened by the tragedy, and praised Mr. Carnahan's public service. "Mel was a good friend," Mr. Gore said.

Senate lawmakers paused during floor debate on spending measures to pay tribute to Mr. Carnahan.

"In this line of work, a genuinely refreshing person like Mel Carnahan is rare indeed," said Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, New Jersey Democrat.

"His passion for his work and the diligence in which he pursued his goals are reflected in the legacy he leaves behind," said Mr. Torricelli, who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

"That our Senate campaign could have ended so tragically is shocking. Obviously, this is not a time for politics. This is a time for the state to come together," Mr. Ashcroft said.

"We've lost a great governor and a great public servant," said Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat and House minority leader. "We've been dealt a horrible blow. I can't tell you how much I feel a sense of loss for this good man."

Before last night's debate, Mr. Bush, the Republican presidential nominee, called Mr. Carnahan "a thoughtful, distinguished man who was dedicated to quality education and excellence in public service."

"I was fortunate to have the opportunity to get to know Governor Carnahan through our work as governors," Mr. Bush said in a statement. "Laura and I have Jean and the entire Carnahan family in our thoughts and prayers."

Mr. Carnahan's name will remain on the ballot for the Nov. 7 election, due to a state law that forbids ballot changes within four weeks of an election. His death was a blow to Senate Democrats who have been entertaining hopes of regaining control of the chamber, where Republicans hold a 54-46 majority.

In the unlikely event that Mr. Carnahan is elected posthumously, acting Gov. Roger B. Wilson, a Democrat, would appoint a replacement to serve two years in the Senate.

Officials with the Commission on Presidential Debates discussed postponing last night's contest but decided to go ahead with the event at Washington University in St. Louis.

Mr. Wilson, 52, became acting governor early yesterday and struggled to compose himself as he spoke to reporters.

"I would like to ask permission to lean on about five million Missourians' shoulders," Mr. Wilson said in the state capital of Jefferson City.

Mr. Carnahan, whose political career spanned nearly 40 years, had made international news last year when he granted the plea of Pope John Paul II to commute the sentence of a condemned inmate.

• Audrey Hudson contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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