Senate candidate Carnahan seeks to continue family's political legacy

Secretary of state pursues higher office
Sunday, October 24, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:47 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 28, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — When Robin Carnahan announced in February 2009 that she would seek a U.S. Senate seat the following year, Democrats across the country were still elated from the 2008 election season.

Barack Obama had been sworn in as president just two weeks earlier. The Democratic Party had majorities in both houses of Congress.


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In that political climate, Carnahan's bid seemed almost inevitable. After all, her family members had been political figures in Missouri for decades.

Albert Sidney Johnson Carnahan, Robin Carnahan's grandfather, was a seven-term Congressman in the 1940s and 1950s.

Her father, Mel Carnahan, was a historic figure in Missouri politics. He was a state legislative leader, state treasurer, lieutenant governor and governor.

Mel Carnahan's death in a plane crash in 2000 while campaigning for the Senate during the closing weeks of his second term as governor gained national attention.  The crash also killed Robin Carnahan's brother Randy, who was piloting the plane.

Just a few weeks later, Mel Carnahan became the first deceased candidate to win a Senate seat. His widow, Jean Carnahan, stepped in to serve in the Senate for two years.

Beyond the public offices held by her grandfather, father and mother, Robin Carnahan's brother, Russ Carnahan, is serving his third term as a U.S. Congressman from the St. Louis area. 

Robin Carnahan emerged on the state's public political scene in 1999 when she led the successful campaign for voter rejection of a proposal to legalizeconcealed weapons. In 2000, she won the first of two terms as Missouri's secretary of state.

But this year, she found a political environment in which long-time political roots weren't necessarily an advantage. Rather than focusing on her family accomplishments, her campaign for U.S. Senate has taken a distinctly negative tone.

Carnahan has sought to paint Blunt as a Washington insider more beholden to special interests than to Missouri voters.

"Roy Blunt is as shady as a rotten apple tree. He's looking out for someone, but it sure ain't you and me," are the words sung by country-western singers in one Carhanan ad. "The way to spell corruption is B-L-U-N-T. Roy Blunt is the very worst of Washington, D.C."

During the summer, she embarked on a nine-city "Stop the Bull" tour during  which she attacked earmarks, wasteful spending, lobbyists and special interest groups.

"There are some people who say, 'let's stop earmarks for a year,'" she said in a speech on the tour. "I've got a better idea: Let's just scrap 'em all."

In September, Carnahan was sued by Fox News for using footage of anchor Chris Wallace in a campaign advertisement attacking Blunt.

Carnahan has defended her campaign approach against Blunt by quoting Harry Truman.

"I never gave them hell," she quoted. "I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell."

In her closing remarks of the second Senate debate, held at the Missouri Press Association convention at Lake of the Ozarks, Carnahan outlined what she feels is at the heart of her campaign.

"In the end," she said, "this election is between a senator for Missouri or a senator for Washington."

Carnahan supported the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, known as the stimulus package.

"It kept cops on the street, teachers in classrooms and cut taxes for millions of Missourians," she said.

She also supported the health care reforms passed this year and has spoken in support of clean energy initiatives. After the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the spring, she came out in favor of a moratorium on offshore drilling.

On the other side, she opposed the bailout bills such as the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

"The Wall Street bailout failed to deliver as promised," she said during the second Senate debate.

As secretary of state, Carnahan said, she has focused on moving the majority of business filings online, targeting scam artists and upgrading Missouri's voting infrastructure.

In her first term, she fought an unsuccessful effort to block legislative passage of a measure intended to require photo IDs in order to vote.

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