Jean Carnahan (born December 20, 1933) is an American politician and writer who served in the United States Senate from 2001 to 2002. A Democrat, she was appointed to the Senate to fill the seat of her posthumously elected husband.
Born Jean Anne Carpenter in Washington, DC 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. Jean Carpenter married her high-school sweetheart, Mel Carnahan, in 1954.
As Mel entered politics, Jean was his political partner for several decades. Mel Carnahan was elected Governor of Missouri, serving from 1993-2000. Ms. 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.
Mel 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 Mel were to win the election posthumously.
The unusual circumstances made it a strange race. Out of respect, Ashcroft suspended his campaign during the mourning period for Mel Carnahan. Jean Carnahan did not actively campaign, but she did accept Wilson's offer and film one campaign commercial. It had been a close race, and sympathy may have worked in Mel/Jean's favor. The late Mel Carnahan won the election by a slim margin - only 48,000 votes out of 2.36 million cast (51-48- and Jean 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 Missouri law, she would only serve until a special election could be held in 2002.
In 2002, Carnahan ran as an incumbent, but was defeated in a close race by Republican James Talent; the margin was only 22,000 votes, 49.8Ô8.6ĺP> 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 leaving the Senate, Ms. Carnahan has continued as an activist and author. She has written four books and numerous opinion pieces.