Carnahan's Campaign Bruised, But Alive
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Carnahan's Campaign Bruised, But Alive

Date: October 21, 2010
By: Kyle Deas and Michael Langenberg
State Capitol Bureau

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

By Allison Blood

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

In that political climate, Carnahan's bid seemed almost inevitable. After all, her family 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, had been an historic figure in Missouri politics.  He had been a state legislative leader, state treasurer, lieutenant governor and governor.

Mel Carnahan's death in a plane crash in 2000 while campaigning for the U.S. 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 U.S. Senate seat -- resulting in a vacancy filled by his widow Jean Carnahan who served in the U.S. 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 public state political scene in 1999 when she led the successful campaign in 1999 for voter rejection of a proposal to legalizing concealed weapons. In 2000, she won the first of her two terms as Missouri's secretary of state.

But in 2010, Robin Carnahan found in 2010 a political environment in which long-time political roots was not necessarily an advantage.

Rather than focusing on her family accomplishments, her campaign for U.S. Senate has taken a distinctive negative tone.

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

"Roy Blunt is a 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-NT. Roy Blunt is the very worst of Washington, D.C."

In the summer of 2010, she embarked on a nine-city "Stop the Bull" tour on 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 2010, 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, 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 of the bill.

She supported the health-care reform efforts included the federal health care law passed this year.

Carnahan has also spoken in support of clean energy. After the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the spring of 2010, she came out in favor of an offshore drilling moratorium.

On the other side, she opposed the bailout bills like the Troubled Asset Relief Program.  In the second of the two Senate debates, she said "the Wall Street bailout failed to deliver as promised."

As secretary of state, Carnahan 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.