Questions cloud Carnahan's unprecedented victory

The unprecedented election of a man to the US Senate posthumously is throwing the politics of Missouri - and the nation's capital - into uncertainty.

By electing Mel Carnahan, the Democratic governor who was killed three weeks ago in a plane crash, to the Senate over Republican incumbent John Ashcroft, Missouri voters seemed to have assured that his widow, Jean Carnahan, will take his seat, at least temporarily.

She agreed a week ago to serve in her late husband's place should he win. The state's Democratic lieutenant governor, Roger Wilson, who is now serving as governor, has said he would offer her the post. That would make her a senator for a federally mandated two years, at which time another election will be held.

But the Republicans may have grounds to block her appointment on several fronts. Even before the election, both local and national GOP leaders indicated they believed continuation of the Carnahan candidacy was invalid on various legal grounds, including a constitutional requirement that a candidate must be an "inhabitant" of a state. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that a dead person is not a "citizen."

Moreover, in the end, it is the US Senate itself that must seat her. If the GOP retains control of the chamber, it may choose to void the election.

In St. Louis, meanwhile, citing "irregularities" that caused long lines at polling places, a judge ordered they remain open three hours past their scheduled closing time of 7 p.m. Further legal maneuvering resulted in the closure of the polling stations at around 8 p.m. Republicans could try to have a court declare any votes cast after 7 p.m. as invalid, though it's not clear the timing of the balloting can be determined.

Still, for Republicans, any attempt to block Ms. Carnahan's claims would be sensitive. "If you think the impeachment was bad politics, imagine trying to deny a widow what appears to be her rightfully earned seat," says Jeff Smith, a political scientist at Washington University here.

Prior to Carnahan's death, Ashcroft had built a seven point lead in a contentious campaign.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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