History Today. A brief recent history of when dead Americans win elections

History Today. A brief recent history of when dead Americans win elections

Apropos of nothing, honest, I was reminded of two recent occasions when dead candidates won elections they were standing in. The most (in)famous was in 2000 when the recently deceased Mel Carnahan defeated the incumbent senator, John Ashcroft. A report at the time said

Missouri voters narrowly elected their deceased governor, Mel Carnahan, to the Senate on Tuesday, making him the first person to win a Senate seat from the grave.

In one of the most bizarre episodes in US politics, Mr Carnahan, who died in a plane crash last month after it was too late to remove his name from the ballot, defeated the incumbent Republican, Senator John Ashcroft.

The Senate seat is likely to be taken by Mr Carnahan’s widow.

Jean Carnahan thanked supporters and expressed “joy and gratitude” at their efforts to reelect her husband.

“The mantle has now fallen on us”, she told supporters. “Let us pledge to each other that we will never let the fire go out.”

Mel Carnahan won on a wave of sympathy from voters shocked by his death in the October 16th crash, which also killed his son and an adviser as they travelled to a campaign function.

At first, after Mr Carnahan’s death, political experts believed Mr Ashcroft would easily win the Senate seat. But bumper stickers sprouted around Missouri bearing the words “I’m still with Mel” and Democrats released a TV ad featuring Jean Carnahan calling on the state’s voters to keep Mel Carnahan’s vision “alive”.

Mr Ashcroft suspended campaigning after Mr Carnahan’s death, cancelling ads and appearances. But he resumed after polls showed continued strong support for Mr Carnahan.

In the tweet below you can see another example of a dead man winning an election, even a man with such a colour backstory. I could also cite the example of Hale Boggs who won his Congressional seat in 1972 after he died, who was one of three congressmen to win their seats after their death.

So what to make of this? In the UK if a non independent candidate dies the election is postponed but in America they keep on buggering on with the election. Being dead isn’t a hindrance, and may even lead to a sympathy vote.

Given the way 2020 has turned out Donald Trump to win the Presidential election on the back of a sympathy vote even if he survives his Covid-19 experience? Don’t rule it out.


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