In 2000, Mel Carnahan ran for U.S. Senate, opposing the incumbent Republican, John Ashcroft. It was a heated, intense campaign in which Carnahan traveled all over the state to garner support in what was a very close race. Early on October 16, 2000, just three weeks before the election and the night before a presidential debate to be held at Washington University in St. Louis, the twin-engine Cessna airplane piloted by the Governor's son, Randy, crashed on a heavily forested hillside during a rainstorm and foggy conditions near Goldman, Missouri, about 35 miles south of St. Louis. All three occupants of the plane - Governor Carnahan, his son Randy, and Chris Sifford, campaign advisor and former chief of staff to the governor - died in the crash.
Shortly afterward, Lieutenant Governor Roger B. Wilson succeeded Mel Carnahan to fill the Governor's office until January 2001. Because Missouri election law would not allow for Mel Carnahan's name to be removed from the November 7, 2000 ballot, Jean Carnahan, his widow, became the Democratic candidate unofficially. Governor Wilson promised to appoint her to the senate seat if vacant as a result of Mr. Carnahan's being elected, and the campaign continued using the slogan "I'm Still With Mel." A Senate first, the deceased Carnahan won by a 2% margin. Mrs. Carnahan was then appointed to the Senate and served until, in a special election in November 2002, she was narrowly defeated by James Talent, a Republican.
Carnahan is not the only candidate to have died during a U.S. Senate race in recent decades. Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota was killed in a plane crash in 2002, 11 days before his U.S. Senate election. Representative Jerry Litton, also of Missouri, died in a plane crash in 1976 on the day he was nominated by his party. Richard "Dick" Obenshain of Virginia died in a plane crash in 1978 shortly after receiving the Republican nomination. In the California State Senate race of 2010, voters in the Long Beach district re-elected Jenny Oropeza, who had died of illness the month previously.