Carnahan, Talent woo undecided voters in campaign's final hours

Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Associated Press Writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Reaching out to undecided voters, Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan and Republican challenger Jim Talent said it's not about who wins their close race for U.S. Senate, but about vulnerable Missourians who need a voice in government.

Their message competed with a presidential visit Monday aimed at boosting Talent in a contest that could put Republicans back in power in the Senate. It was the fourth visit from President Bush, who has dispatched Cabinet members and family to help Talent, while Mrs. Carnahan has campaigned with a string of well-known Democrats.

But on the eve of Election Day, Mrs. Carnahan visited senior citizens across Missouri, saying, "these are the important people to me."

"My opponent is having the important people from Washington come out for him, but I think these people are important -- these people who are having to cut their medicine in half to be able to afford it," she said during a stop in Columbia.

On Election Day, Mrs. Carnahan arrived at 8:18 a.m. in a sputtering rain to vote at the American Legion hall in her hometown of Rolla. She was voter No. 123, and her daughter, Robin, was No. 124. When Mrs. Carnahan turned in her ballot, she received an "I Voted" sticker and placed it on the left lapel of her black coat.

She later told reporters: "I have a Harry Truman feeling about things. I think it's going to be the Missouri surprise."

Talent, addressing supporters before Bush took the podium at a rally Monday night in suburban St. Louis, said the election isn't about political parties or candidates.

"It's about making a difference for the vulnerable people in this state and this country who need a difference made for them, making the system work for people who've been on the outskirts too long," Talent said. "We can do that. We have that responsibility."

Mrs. Carnahan, 68, traveled to retirement communities from St. Louis to Columbia to Kansas City to Springfield, then campaigned door-to-door with House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, a congressman from St. Louis.

Talent, 46, rallied supporters in St. Charles with Bush, followed by stops in Kansas City and Springfield. He voted at 8 a.m. Tuesday at the Baxter Ridge Country Club in Chesterfield in suburban St. Louis.

Emotions were running high as their race drew to a close. Mrs. Carnahan said she felt the same kind of optimism as when her husband, the late Gov. Mel Carnahan, was poised for election victory.

"I just feel something out there, and I've been through 20 elections, and I could always feel when Mel was losing, and I could always feel when he was winning," Mrs. Carnahan said in an interview. "What I'm feeling out there now is such a strength and energy that I've never witnessed in a campaign."

On Election Day, though, the senator also acknowledged fatigue from the hard-fought campaign.

"It's been a very long campaign and I think the voters are worn out as well," she said.

Mrs. Carnahan was named Missouri's junior senator in 2000 after voters took the unprecedented step of electing her husband three weeks after he died in a plane crash. The loser was Republican incumbent Sen. John Ashcroft, whom Bush soon nominated to head the Justice Department.

Though Bush addressed more than 8,000 Republicans Monday at the same suburban St. Louis arena where he stumped in 2000 for Ashcroft, the president never mentioned the name of his attorney general, despite Ashcroft's leading role in the administration's war on terrorism.

Instead, the president urged the crowd to get people to the polls, said he needed allies like Talent in the Senate and launched into an emotional address about how the American spirit had survived the Sept. 11 attacks.

Bush said children should remember the story of United Flight 93, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field that day after passengers tried to wrest control of the plane from terrorists.

"They learned that the plane was going to be used as a weapon. They were on the phones to their loved ones. They said, 'Goodbye, I love you.' Somebody said a prayer. A guy said, 'Let's roll.' They took the plane into the ground to save lives, to serve something greater than themselves," Bush said.

He concluded, "Thanks for helping Jim. May God bless you, and may God bless America."

A Talent victory would likely return congressional control to Republicans for a brief post-election session, because the winner of this special election would take office as soon as results are certified. The outcome also has long-term implications on a Senate that now has 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans and two independents.

Turnout could make the difference in the close race between Talent and Mrs. Carnahan, who were running even in two polls released Sunday.

Supporters of the two candidates were gearing up for a rerun of Election Day chaos two years ago, when a judge ordered polls in St. Louis kept open past closing time in response to Democratic lawsuits charging that hundreds of voters were turned away from the polls. An appeals court swiftly overruled the judge and closed the polls.

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