Jim Talent defeats Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Associated Press Writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Republican challenger Jim Talent eked out a narrow victory Tuesday over Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan, the widow who took her late husband's place in the U.S. Senate after his surprising election win two years ago.

Talent's victory gives the GOP control of the U.S. Senate.

Talent lost in St. Louis and Kansas City, but he made up for Mrs. Carnahan's urban strength in rural Missouri, winning by larger margins in many of the counties he carried in his losing 2000 race for governor.

"I have just called Mr. Talent and conceded this race," Mrs. Carnahan said. "I want to congratulate him for his election and his victorious campaign, but I also want to thank my staff."

Despite predictions that heavy provisional balloting in the St. Louis area could delay vote-counting for days or even weeks, officials there said that fewer than 1,500 people used the new system.

Talent led narrowly most of the night, but returns in heavily Democratic St. Louis and Kansas City trickled in slowly, as did results in more evenly split St. Louis County.

Mrs. Carnahan was appointed following a bizarre and tragic election two years ago. Gov. Mel Carnahan, the Democratic nominee, died campaigning three weeks before the election, but voters chose him anyway over Republican Sen. John Ashcroft, knowing the new governor would appoint his widow.

That made Tuesday's balloting a special election for the final four years of the term. It also immediately returns congressional control to Republicans. The GOP will take over during a brief post-election session, because the winner of this special election would take office as soon as results are certified.

In claiming victory, Talent walked onto a stage at a suburban St. Louis hotel with his wife and kids and shook hands with row of supporters, hugging his new colleague, Republican Sen. Kit Bond.

"Believe it or not, I'm almost speechless," Talent said. "I want to say 'Thank you."'

"I've known Jean and I knew Mel for a long time, and she conducted herself with dignity and grace."

The certification of the election depends on Secretary of State Matt Blunt, a Republican, and Democratic Gov. Bob Holden -- the man who defeated Talent by a similarly narrow margin just two years ago. Holden has said he would follow the law, but has not said how quickly he would sign off on the election results.

As Talent took the podium early Wednesday, supporters cheered, "Swear him in! Swear him in! Swear him in!"

Said Talent, "I'm grateful to her, for the way she has conducted herself and for her call. I know what it is like to make a call like that, when you have lost a close race."

He and Mrs. Carnahan raised more than $18 million between them, and the parties and special interests spent millions more.

Mrs. Carnahan said she hoped to go down in history as an effective senator.

"It was truly a momentous time in our nation's history," Mrs. Carnahan said. "And it is my hope that those of who write of such things will say of Missouri's first woman to serve as United States senator: 'Though she did not serve us long, she served us well."'

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