Sen. Jean Carnahan (D)|
Last Updated July 31, 2001
|Appointed Nov. 2000,
seat up 2002
Born: Dec. 20, 1933,
Education: George Washington U., B.A. 1955
Marital Status: Widowed
- Professional: Public speaker; Author.
DC Office: 517 HSOB
202-224-6154; Fax: 202-228-0043; Web site: carnahan.senate.gov
573-636-1070; Kansas City,816-421-1639; Springfield,417-831-2735; St. Louis,314-436-3416.
Jean Carnahan was named to the Senate in 2000 under unusual and tragic circumstances. She grew up in Washington, D.C., in the Anacostia section southeast of the Capitol. She graduated from George Washington University and married, at 20, a fellow student she had met in high school, Mel Carnahan from Birch Tree, Missouri. Carnahan married into politics: her husband's father, A.S.J. Carnahan, was a Democratic congressman from Missouri (1945-47, 1949-61) and then ambassador to Sierra Leone. The younger Carnahans returned to Missouri and Jean Carnahan worked closely with her husband as he served in public office--as a municipal judge in their hometown of Rolla in 1960, as a state representative from 1962-66, as Missouri treasurer in 1980-84 and lieutenant governor in 1988-92. In that job Carnahan had a distant relationship with the Republican governor, John Ashcroft. In 1992 Mel Carnahan was elected governor.
Ineligible to run for a third term as governor, Mel Carnahan announced in November 1998 that he would run against John Ashcroft for the Senate. Ashcroft, meanwhile, was launching what looked very much like a campaign for president. With a strong conservative voting record and good rapport with religious conservatives, he hoped to emerge as the favorite of one wing of the Republican party while remaining acceptable to others. He was one of the first to say that the Lewinsky scandal might warrant impeachment, he sponsored repeal of the marriage penalty, he opposed Surgeon General nominee David Satcher and opposed the Clinton national educational testing program. But Republicans' failure to make gains in the November 1998 elections and the fact that only 34% of Missouri voters said he would be a good president in the VNS exit poll tended to undercut Ashcroft's candidacy. Carnahan argued that Ashcroft posed as a tax-cutter, while as governor he had pressed for tax increases, and criticized him for taking an anti-government line while he had spent most of his adult life in politics and government. In January 1999 Ashcroft pulled out of the presidential race, and became part of what may well have been the most closely and bitterly contested 2000 Senate race between two men who had each twice been elected governor and had nine statewide victories between them.
Then, on the night of October 16, Mel Carnahan, together with his son Randy and aide Chris Sifford, were killed in a plane crash. It brought back memories of another plane crash in a Missouri Senate race, in August 1976, when Democratic primary winner Jerry Litton and his family were killed on primary night. The third presidential debate went on in St. Louis on October 17, but Ashcroft announced that he was suspending his campaign, and Carnahan's campaign manager told staffers they were free to leave. After a memorial service for Carnahan October 20, many leading Democrats were talking about what to do next. It was too late to reprint ballots, and a write-in candidacy seemed daunting. Many of them talked about Jean Carnahan running in his place, and some mentioned the possibility to her. If more people voted for Carnahan than Ashcroft, under state law the new governor, Roger Wilson, would have to name someone to serve two years of the term. On October 23, Wilson called Jean Carnahan and offered to nominate her to the Senate if Carnahan won. On October 30 Carnahan agreed.
Ashcroft began campaigning again, running positive ads about his accomplishments and experience, plus an ad showing John Danforth criticizing the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for its negative coverage. Democrats handed out "Still with Mel" buttons and Jean Carnahan appeared, head-on, in one 60-second spot pledging to carry on her husband's work. Naturally, in the wake of his death, only positive feelings were brought forward; any Carnahan negatives disappeared. Polls showed the race very close throughout: Mel Carnahan won, 51%-48%. Some Republicans urged Ashcroft to challenge the result, on the ground that the Constitution requires that a senator be a citizen of his state when elected. But he declined and said, "I believe the will of the people has been expressed with compassion, and I believe the people's voice should be respected and heard." On December 4, Wilson appointed Jean Carnahan to the vacancy beginning January 3.
In the Senate, Jean Carnahan lined up with most of her fellow Democrats on issues in early 2001. She was one of the 42 Democrats to vote against the confirmation of Ashcroft as attorney general; she said he was "too divisive." But she was also one of the 12 Democrats to vote for the $1.3 trillion compromise tax cut in May 2001. She introduced a $50 billion education bill in February 2001, based on her husband's proposals. In early 2001 she said she had not decided whether to run in 2002 for the four years remaining in the term, though she did set up a re-election committee. In early 2001 former Congressman Jim Talent was expected to announce his candidacy.
Highly Competitive. Given the hotly contested nature of this state and the unique circumstances under which Carnahan got to the Senate, this seems destined to be a competitive contest. As of spring 2001 Carnahan had not yet said whether she would run in the special election to fill the remaining four years of the term. The likely Republican candidate is former Congressman Jim Talent, who was the party's 2000 gubernatorial nominee. If she opts to step aside, the open seat contest would be a toss up.
||Mel Carnahan (D)
|John Ashcroft (R)
||Mel Carnahan (D)
|Ronald W. Wagganer (D)
||John Ashcroft (R)
|Alan Wheat (D)
|Bill Johnson (Lib)
|2000||Receipts||Receipts from PACs||Expenditures|
|Mel Carnahan (D)
|John Ashcroft (R)
National Journal Group offers both print and electronic reprint services, as well as permissions for academic use, photocopying and republication. Click here to order, or call us at 877-394-7350.