The 2002 United States Special Senate election in Missouri was held on November 5, 2002 to decide who would serve the rest of Senator Mel Carnahan's term, after he died. The winner would serve four more years until the next election in 2006. Roger Wilson appointed Carnahan's wife Jean to serve temporarily. She then decided to run to serve the remainder of the term. Republican nominee Jim Talent defeated her narrowly. Technically, the race flipped control of the Senate from Democrats to Republicans, but the Senate had adjourned before Talent could take office and so no change in leadership occurred until the 108th Congress opened session in January 2003.
In the November 2000 elections, Mel Carnahan, who had died in a plane crash three weeks before, remained on the ballot for election to the Senate. Carnahan received more votes than his Republican opponent, John Ashcroft, who did not legally contest being defeated by a dead candidate. Carnahan's successor as governor, Roger B. Wilson, fulfilled his pre-election promise to appoint Carnahan's widow in her husband's place and a special election was scheduled for 2002.
The Seventeenth Amendment requires that appointments to the Senate last only until a special election is held.
National security and Carnahan's vote against fellow Missourian John Ashcroft as attorney general were major issues in the campaign. Republicans argued Carnahan owed her vote to Ashcroft, who had lost his bid for re-election to the Senate to Carnahan's husband. Talent, citing Carnahan's votes against homeland-security legislation and missile defense, accused her of being soft on national security, which she objected to, saying he was "doubt[ing] her patriotism."
Jack Abramoff contributed $2,000 to Talent's 2002 senatorial campaign and Preston Gates & Ellis, a former Abramoff employer, had also contributed $1,000 to Talent's campaign. Talent later returned both contributions. Talent's win returned Republican control of the Senate which had been under slight Democratic dominance resulting from Vermont junior senator Jim Jeffords's decision to renounce the Republican Party, turning independent and making the choice to caucus with the Democrats.
Talent's victory wasn't certified until November 21, 2002, one day before Congress adjourned, which prevented them from claiming a senate majority. He automatically became a Senator the following day because, under federal law, he formally took office the day after both chambers of Congress adjourned. Because Republicans would hold the majority in the following congress, they saw no need to hold a special session in the 107th to take advantage of their brief majority.