Jean Carnahan

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Jean Carnahan
Jean Carnahan.jpg
United States Senator
from Missouri
In office
January 3, 2001 – November 23, 2002
Appointed by Roger Wilson
Preceded by John Ashcroft
Succeeded by Jim Talent
First Lady of Missouri
In office
January 11, 1993 – October 16, 2000
Governor Mel Carnahan
Preceded by Janet Ashcroft
Succeeded by Patricia Wilson
Personal details
Born Jean Anne Carpenter
(1933-12-20) December 20, 1933 (age 83)
Washington D.C., U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Mel Carnahan (1954–2000)
Alma mater George Washington University
Religion Southern Baptist[1]

Jean Anne Carpenter Carnahan (born December 20, 1933) is an American politician and writer who served as First Lady of Missouri from 1993 to 2000, and as her state's junior U.S. senator from 2001 to 2002. A Democrat, she was appointed to the Senate to fill the seat of her husband, Mel Carnahan, who was posthumously elected to the seat in 2000. She became the first woman to represent Missouri in the Senate.

Life and career[edit]

Born Jean Anne Carpenter in Washington, D.C. to a working-class family, she was determined to go to college. She worked through the year while attending George Washington University. She graduated in 1955 with a degree in Business and Public Administration, the first in her family to graduate from high school and college. She is an alumna of Kappa Delta sorority. She married Mel Carnahan in 1954.

As Mel Carnahan entered politics, Jean Carnahan was his political partner for several decades. Mel Carnahan was elected Governor of Missouri, serving 1993–2000. Mrs. Carnahan was an activist First Lady, an advocate for on-site day care centers for working families, childhood immunization, abuse centers, the arts, and Habitat for Humanity.

In 2000, Governor Mel Carnahan ran for a Senate seat from Missouri against incumbent Republican John Ashcroft. Only three weeks before election day, Carnahan was killed in an airplane crash, along with his son Randy (who piloted the plane) and Chris Sifford, the governor's chief of staff and campaign advisor). Due to the short amount of time before the election, the Missouri election law did not allow Carnahan's name to be removed from the November 2000 ballot. Acting Governor Roger B. Wilson announced that he would appoint Jean Carnahan if her husband were to posthumously win the election.

Out of respect, Ashcroft suspended his campaign during the mourning period for Mel Carnahan. Jean Carnahan did not actively campaign but announced that she intended to accept Wilson's appointment, She filmed one campaign commercial.

The race between Ashcroft and Mel Carnahan had been close. Carnahan posthumously won (51-48%), receiving 1.19 million votes out of 2.36 million cast, and Jean Carnahan was appointed to the Senate in 2001. Under Missouri law, she would serve only until a special election could be held.

The defeated Senator Ashcroft was nominated by Republican President-elect George W. Bush to be US attorney general, and because cabinet appointments are subject to Senate approval, Jean Carnahan found herself in the unusual position of casting a vote against the nomination of her former opponent.

In 2002, the special election was held for the remainder of the six-year term. Jean Carnahan ran, but was defeated in a close race by Republican James Talent; the margin was only 22,000 votes (49.8–48.6%).

The 2004 elections proved better for the Carnahan family, when Jean Carnahan's son, Russ Carnahan, was elected to Congress and her daughter Robin Carnahan was elected Missouri's Secretary of State. Robin's bid to follow her mother as a United States Senator failed, however, when she was defeated by Republican U.S. Representative Roy Blunt in the 2010 election to succeed Missouri's senior Senator, Republican Kit Bond. Russ Carnahan lost his House seat in the 2012 elections after his district was eliminated, forcing him to run in the Democratic primary against fellow incumbent William Lacy Clay, Jr., whose district encompassing inner city St. Louis was kept largely intact.

Since losing her Senate race, Jean Carnahan has continued as an activist and author. She has written four books and numerous opinion pieces.

She is among the former Missouri First Ladies who have participated in the cherry blossom tree planting in Marshfield, Missouri.

Electoral history[edit]

  • 2000 race for U.S. Senate
  • 2002 race for U.S. Senate (special election to fill remainder of term)
    • Jim Talent (R), 50%
    • Jean Carnahan (D) (inc.), 49%

Books by Jean Carnahan[edit]

See also[edit]


United States Senate
Preceded by
John Ashcroft
United States Senator (Class 1) from Missouri
Served alongside: Kit Bond
Succeeded by
Jim Talent
Party political offices
Preceded by
Mel Carnahan
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Missouri
(Class 1)

Succeeded by
Claire McCaskill