JEFFERSON CITY - To hear the politicos explain things, all it took to tone down the 2000 Senate race war was an exchange of letters Wednesday between the state Republican and Democratic chairmen. Weeks of racial strife will now end, they claim.
"We are going to operate the campaign on a higher-plane," said John Hancock, executive director of the Missouri Republican party. "I don't think there has been an election in my adult lifetime where race baiting was not on the table."
Race has overpowered the Senate campaign since October. In a race being watched across the nation, Missouri's two-term Democratic governor, Mel Carnahan, is vying to replace incumbent Republican Sen. John Ashcroft.
After he killed the federal district court nomination of Ronnie White, the first black to serve on the Missouri Supreme Court, some Democrats charged that Ashcroft had been motivated by racial bias.
In almost tit-for-tat fashion, an unnamed Republican then gave the Associated Press the first of three photographs showing Carnahan performing in minstrel shows of the early-1960s.
Democrats accepted a pledge proposed by Ann Wagner, the state GOP chairman, to not state or imply that the opposition party or its candidates are racially prejudiced or bear ill-will for any ethnic community. Neither party admits making race an issue, or labeling the opposition as biased.
"For us to effect a meaningful tone in this campaign this is a change we need to make," said Roy Temple, executive director of the Missourian Democratic Party.
Hancock had three telephone conversations with Temple after Carnahan and Ashcroft spoke unproductively for 15 minutes Friday morning.