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Politically Speaking: Former Congressman Carnahan on his comeback bid for lieutenant governor

Russ Carnahan
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

On the latest edition of the Politically Speaking podcast, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies are pleased to welcome former U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan to the program.

The St. Louis Democrat recently declared his return to electoral politics when he announced his lieutenant governor bid.

He served in the U.S. House, filling the old 3rd District seat, from 2005 through the end of 2012. Earlier, Carnahan spent about four years in the Missouri House, representing southern and eastern parts of the city of St. Louis.

Russ Carnahan comes from a distinguished political family. His grandfather, A.S.J. Carnahan, served in Congress and as an ambassador. His father, Mel Carnahan, was elected to three statewide offices, including two terms as Missouri’s governor. His mother, Jean Carnahan, served in the U.S. Senate for two years, from 2001 until early 2003, after her husband died in plane crash while campaigning in October 2000. (Mel Carnahan remains the only person to have been elected to the U.S. Senate posthumously.)

Russ Carnahan's sister, Robin Carnahan, was elected to two terms as secretary of state.

But with several exceptions, Russ Carnahan hasn’t had the easiest time getting elected to office: He lost a congressional race against GOP U.S. Rep. Bill Emerson in 1990. Despite being heavily favored, he nearly lost his first bid for state representative in 2000 and his 2004 and 2010 races for Congress. And after redistricting in 2012, Carnahan lost to U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-University City, in a bitter Democratic primary.

Now, Carnahan is setting his sights on the lieutenant governor's office. Incumbent Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, is running for governor. Two Republicans -- state Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, and attorney Bev Randles -- are seeking the post. Carnahan also faces at least one Democratic rival, state Rep. Tommie Pierson, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors.  (Pierson was a guest on Politically Speaking late last year.)

Among Carnahan's observations during the podcast:

  • He recounts his introduction to politics as a youth, watching his father as Mel Carnahan progressed in his lengthy career. Russ Carnahan served as his father’s driver in some early races, and later helped run the elder Carnahan’s campaigns.
  • Carnahan has no regrets about his efforts to remain in Congress after the General Assembly, in effect, eliminated his seat following the 2010 census. He unsuccessfully challenged the new map in court. And he doesn’t apologize for running against fellow Democrat Clay in 2012 when they were tossed into the same district.
  • Carnahan says his background makes him a good fit for lieutenant governor. “It’s important to have someone who’s ready to serve,’’ he said.
  •  Carnahan said he’s prepared to preside over the state Senate, one of the post’s key jobs. “Our legislative process has gotten off the rails,’’ he said. Carnahan adds that when the General Assembly works well. “it’s like having the whole state of Missouri in one room.”
  • He says his background growing up in rural Missouri gives him some insight that some urban Democrats lack. Carnahan says his record shows he’s often worked on “‘bridge issues’ that can bring people in the rural and urban communities together.”

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

Follow Russ Carnahan on Twitter: @russcarnahan

Music: “Welcome to Bangkok” by Brand New

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.