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Jean Anne Carpenter Carnahan (born December 20, 1933) is an Americanmarker politician and writer who served in the United States Senate from 2001 to 2003. A Democrat, she was appointed to the Senate to fill the seat of her posthumously elected husband, becoming the first woman to represent Missourimarker in the Senate.


Born Jean Anne Carpenter in Washington, D.C.marker to a working-class family, she was determined to go to college. She worked through the year while attending George Washington Universitymarker. 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 Missourimarker, 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.

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

The unusual circumstances made it a strange race. Out of respect, John Ashcroft suspended his campaign during the mourning period for Mel Carnahan. Jean Carnahan did not actively campaign, but she did accept Gov. Wilson's offer and filmed one campaign commercial. It had been a close race, and Mel Carnahan wound up posthumously winning the election by a slim margin — only 48,000 votes out of 2.36 million cast (51-48%) — and Mrs. Carnahan was appointed to the Senate in 2001. Though she had been politically active for her entire adult life, she had never held public office. Under Missourimarker law, she would only serve until a special election could be held in 2002.

The defeated Senator Ashcroft was nominated by President-elect George W. Bush to be U.S. attorney general, and because cabinet appointments are subject to Senate approval, Senator Carnahan found herself in the unusual position of casting a vote on the nomination of her former "opponent." She voted against Ashcroft's nomination and was criticized in some quarters for doing so.

In 2002, Jean Carnahan ran as an incumbent for a full term, 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 Senator Carnahan's son, Russ, was elected to Congress, and her daughter, Robin, was elected Missouri's Secretary of State.

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, Missourimarker.

Electoral history

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

Books by Jean Carnahan

  • (1998) If Walls Could Talk: The Story of Missouri’s First Families. MMPI ISBN 0-9668992-0-2.
  • (1999) Christmas at the Mansion. MMPI ISBN 0-9668992-1-0.
  • (2000) Will You Say a Few Words?. Walsworth Publishing Co. ISBN 0-8262-1513-0.
  • (2004) Don’t Let the Fire Go Out!. University of Missouri Press. ISBN 0-8262-1513-0.
  • (2009) The Tide Always Comes Back. Skyhorse Publishing ISBN 1-60239-744-9.

See also


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