JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, seeking to follow in the political footsteps of her mother and late father.
Carnahan, a Democrat, is the first candidate of either party to officially enter the race after Republican Sen. Kit Bond announced last month that he will not seek re-election.
She announced her candidacy in a video posted on her campaign Web site that highlighted the economy and her role as secretary of state in cracking down on investment schemes:
"It's time we had elected leaders ready to stop the political bickering and start solving problems — like rebuilding our economy so that it works for everyone, and making government accountable for every nickel it spends," Carnahan said in her two-minute video statement. "It also means cracking down on the fraud and abuse, both on Wall Street and in Washington, that got us into this mess in the first place."
Carnahan, 47, comes from a prominent political family. Her father, Mel Carnahan, was a two-term Missouri governor who died in a plane crash in October 2000 while campaigning for the Senate. He defeated Republican Sen. John Ashcroft anyway, and her mother, Jean Carnahan, was appointed to the Senate seat. She lost in a special election two years later.
Carnahan's brother is St. Louis-area U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan.
Her candidacy could create a showdown with another prominent Missouri political family. Among the Republicans most seriously considering the Senate race is U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, a former GOP House whip and former secretary of state whose son, Matt Blunt, just ended a term as governor.
Republicans looking at the race include former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent and former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman, who lost a GOP primary last year for governor.
Republican and Democratic leaders both would like to avoid primaries for the Missouri Senate race, which figures to be among the most hotly contested in 2010.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee issued a statement from its chairman, Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, praising Carnahan as "the best candidate for the United States Senate."
Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Craig Hosmer also issued a statement calling Carnahan's Senate candidacy "exciting news for the Democratic Party" and predicting her victory.
Carnahan first was elected secretary of state in 2004 and won re-election over a little-known Republican opponent with nearly 62 percent of the vote — the largest percentage received by any Missouri statewide candidate in 2008. She can run for Senate without having to give up her current office.
In her announcement video, Carnahan made no mention of her family's deep political roots.
"I'm proud of my family's commitment to public service, and certainly my dad and mother's terrific records in their respective offices," she said in an interview. "But I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about that as I made my decision. I really think this is about the future and the problems our country is facing now."
Carnahan said she is kicking off her campaign 21 months before the election to get a jump on the millions of dollars of necessary fundraising. She declined to say whether she would have challenged Bond had he not announced his retirement.
Democratic political consultant Steve Glorioso, of Kansas City, was an adviser to Sen. Claire McCaskill in her successful 2006 Senate race. He said Carnahan was wise to enter the Senate race early.
"Early starts pay off," Glorioso said. "One of the main reasons is to get an early start on fundraising and to discourage others from entering the race."
As an attorney, Carnahan worked at the Export-Import Bank and with the National Democratic Institute, which helps promote democracy abroad, before running for public office. She has a home in St. Louis but still spends part of her time managing the family's cattle farm in Rolla..
During her first term as secretary of state, Carnahan got married and successfully battled cancer. She considered a gubernatorial bid in 2008 before deferring to Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon, who won.