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|United States Senator|
January 3, 2001 - November 23, 2002
|Roger B. Wilson|
|First Lady of Missouri|
January 11, 1993 - October 16, 2000
Jean Anne Carpenter
December 20, 1933
Washington D.C., U.S.
(m. 1954; died 2000)
|Children||4, including Russ, Robin, and Tom|
|Education||George Washington University (BA)|
Jean Anne Carpenter Carnahan (born December 20, 1933) is an American politician and writer who was the First Lady of Missouri from 1993 to 2000, and served as the state's junior United States Senator from 2001 to 2002. A Democrat, she was appointed to fill the Senate seat of her husband Mel Carnahan, who had been posthumously elected, becoming the first woman to represent Missouri in the U.S. Senate.
Born Jean Anne Carpenter in Washington, D.C., to a working-class family, Carnahan was determined to go to college. She and her future husband, Mel, both went to Anacostia High School where they sat next to each other in class. Jean 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 and two years later they moved to his home state of Missouri. As her husband entered politics, she became his political partner. He was elected Governor of Missouri, serving from 1993 to 2000. She 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 Carnahan ran for a Senate seat from Missouri against incumbent Republican John Ashcroft. Three weeks before election day, the governor was killed in an airplane crash, along with their 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, Missouri election law did not allow his name to be removed from the ballot. Acting Governor Roger Wilson announced that he would appoint Jean Carnahan if her husband were to posthumously win the election, making her effectively the Democratic candidate by proxy.
Out of respect, Ashcroft suspended his campaign during the mourning period for the governor. Jean Carnahan did not actively campaign but announced that she intended to accept Wilson's appointment; she filmed one campaign commercial.
The race had been close before the accident, and Mel Carnahan posthumously won (51-48%), receiving 1.19 million votes out of 2.36 million cast. Jean Carnahan was appointed to the Senate in 2001, but under Missouri law, she would serve only until a special election could be held.
Ashcroft was subsequently nominated by President George W. Bush to be US attorney general, and because cabinet appointments are subject to Senate approval, Carnahan found herself in the unusual position of casting a vote against the nomination of her de facto opponent.
In 2004, Carnahan's son, Russ Carnahan, was elected to Congress, and her daughter Robin Carnahan was elected Missouri 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 retiring Republican Senator Kit Bond. Russ Carnahan lost his House seat in the 2012 elections after his district was eliminated, forcing him to run in a 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 six books and numerous opinion pieces. The title of her 2004 book is a phrase used during the 2000 campaign to elect her husband to the Senate after his death, Don't Let the Fire Go Out.