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Jean Carnahan won't limit herself to two years

November 09, 2000
By: Clayton Bellamy
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - In her first public appearance since Tuesday's historic election, Jean Carnahan said she'd consider a future run for the U.S. Senate under her own name if her first two years there are successful.

"I've always believed what my husband said, which was that he did not want to just sit in a seat in government to warm it," she told a crowded news conference. "If I feel I am accomplishing something, I would want to come back. If I can't make a difference, I don't want to be there."

Gov. Roger Wilson said weeks ago he would appoint Jean Carnahan to the U.S. Senate to replace her late husband, Mel Carnahan, who outpolled Sen. John Ashcroft Tuesday. Jean Carnahan said she would accept the appointment which would last until the next general election in 2002.

Republicans had warned they would attempt to block Jean Carnahan from claiming a Senate seat, but those rumblings died Wednesday when Ashcroft said he would neither seek nor participate in any challenge.

In St. Louis, Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., called on the U.S. attorney general to investigate the extension of polling hours in that city but said the peculiarity did not affect Missouri's Senate race.

Mel Carnahan garnered 50 percent of Tuesday's vote compared to 48 percent for Ashcroft.

Before the election, Ashcroft touted his experience advantage and other Republicans said Jean Carnahan wasn't qualified to serve.

"I say that remains to be seen," she said. "A lot of people spent their time underestimating my husband. I suggest they don't do that to me."

Late governor Mel Carnahan, along with his son and an aide, died in a plane crash Oct. 16 while campaigning for the Senate. His name remained on ballots because the crash came after the deadline to change them, representing the first time in history a dead man was on a U.S. Senate ticket.

Jean Carnahan was raised in Washington, D.C., but "going to the halls of Congress will be a new thing for me, but like everything else, it's something you can learn," she said.

She rejected the idea that her husband's victory was based on pity.

When she learned of the election results, she felt "that something survived that plane crash, hopes and dreams. People didn't want to let that die," she said.

Continuing the aspirations of Mel Carnahan, she said, gives her a new sense of purpose.

"I get this inner strength knowing that I am doing what he (Mel Carnahan) wanted me to do," she said. "I'm at peace with that."

She said it was too early to think about what sort of bills she would introduce but said children's issues would be a priority. She said her positions don't drift far from those held by her husband, but in some areas, like women's issues, there would be differences of "intensity."

Along with Hillary Clinton, Jean Carnahan was one of three Democratic gains in the Senate, putting the chamber at 50-49 in favor of the GOP. The race in Washington state remains too close to call as the outcome rests on a multitude of absentee ballots still being counted.