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A Carnahan — this time, Russ — is once again running for statewide office

Russ Carnahan
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio | File photo
Russ Carnahan and his wife, Debra, at a press conference Nov. 3.

Former U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, a member of arguably Missouri’s most prominent Democratic family, has ended months of speculation by filing paperwork to run for lieutenant governor.

On Friday, Carnahan set up a campaign committee with the Missouri Ethics Committee.

In a statement emailed to supporters, Carnahan said, "Throughout my career spanning state and national government as well as the private sector, I have maintained a deep respect for public service and many of you have consistently encouraged me to continue serving our state in new ways—especially at a time when so many of our state officials are so very disconnected from the everyday needs and aspirations of Missourians.

"In the months ahead, I will be launching a tour to listen and learn directly from community leaders and everyday citizens..."

Carnahan’s action ends months of speculation. It also creates at least a three-way primary next August, should he and other Democratic contenders follow through with the official filing that begins Feb. 23.

The Democratic nominee will face either state Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, or Kansas City lawyer Bev Randles.  Both Republicans have amassed sizeable campaign bank accounts.

The other announced Democrats in the contest are state Rep. Tommie Pierson, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors and also a pastor, and Brad Bradshaw, a physician and lawyer from Springfield, Mo. who also is promoting an initiative to legalize marijuana for medicinal use.

Bradshaw said in a statement that Carnahan’s entry “is an opportunity for Missouri residents to distinguish between two very different candidates. I’m running for lieutenant governor because I have a vision for Missouri, to make it a world leader in medical research, to find cures for incurable diseases, to create thousands of new jobs and expand Missouri’s economy. Unfortunately, the lieutenant governor’s office has been misused as a do-nothing ceremonial bench for career politicians wanting to one day run for higher office - exactly what Russ Carnahan intends to do…”

Pierson has yet to comment. Pierson is African-American and his supporters include some Democrats, black and white, who want the state party to encourage more diversity on the 2016 statewide ticket. There hasn’t been an African-American nominee for a Missouri statewide office since 1994.

Carnahan’s entry also could revive his own strained relations with some African-American Democrats who remain angry over his nasty 2012 primary contest with U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, after Carnahan’s congressional seat was eliminated following the 2010 census.

Russ Carnahan, 57, made an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 1990, from southeast Missouri. He later moved to St. Louis and was elected to the Missouri House in 1998. He served until 2004, when he was elected to Congress.

Russ Carnahan’s new bid for statewide office ends the brief drought of Carnahans running or holding public office.

Missouri Republican Party chairman John Hancock derided Russ Carnahan's latest bid for office. “You know the Missouri Democratic Party is desperate when the only person they can find to run for lieutenant governor voted with Barack Obama 99% of the time and rubberstamped Obamacare, cap-and-trade, and the stimulus while he was in Washington," Hancock said. "The Democrats are clearly doubling down on the failed Obama agenda, and in November, Missourians will reject Russ Carnahan just like they have repeatedly rejected Barack Obama.”

A Missouri dynasty?

From left: A.S.J. Carnahan, Mel Carnahan, Jean Carnahan and Robin Carnahan
Credit Wikipedia
From left: A.S.J. Carnahan, Mel Carnahan, Jean Carnahan and Robin Carnahan

Carnahan’s grandfather, A.S.J. (Albert Sidney Johnson) Carnahan and a native of Elsinore, Mo., was elected to the House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1944. He was defeated in 1946, but ran again in 1948 and won. The elder Carnahan served in the House for six more terms. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed him to be the first American ambassador to Sierra Leone.

Mel Carnahan

A. S.J. Carnahan’s son, Mel Carnahan, was a lawyer and elected to the Missouri House from Rolla, served 1963-67. In 1980, he was elected state treasurer. He ran for governor in 1984, but lost the primary to fellow Democrat to Kenneth Rothman (who lost that fall to Republican John Ashcroft). In 1988, Mel Carnahan was elected lieutenant governor.

Mel Carnahan – father of Russ Carnahan -- ran for governor in 1992, defeating St. Louis Mayor Vincent Schoemehl in the Democratic primary and then-Missouri Attorney General Bill Webster, the GOP nominee, in the general election.  In 1996, Carnahan was handily re-elected, defeating then-state Auditor Margaret Kelly.

Carnahan ran for the U.S. Senate in 2000, and was killed in a plane crash three weeks before the election. The crash also took the lives of his eldest son, Randy Carnahan, and aide Chris Sifford. Even so, Mel Carnahan won the election posthumously over Republican incumbent John Ashcroft.

Mel Carnahan remains the only deceased person to win election to the U.S. Senate.

Jean Anne Carpenter Carnahan

Mel Carnahan’s widow – and Russ Carnahan’s mother – was appointed to the U.S. Senate following her late husband’s victory. She ran for the rest of the six-year term in 2002, but lost to Republican Jim Talent.

Robin Carnahan

Russ Carnahan’s sister, Robin Carnahan first run for office in 2004 for Missouri secretary of state. She won, defeating Republican Catherine Hanaway. Robin Carnahan was re-elected in 2008.

Robin Carnahan ran for U.S. Senate in 2010, but was defeated soundly by Republican Roy Blunt.

Donna Korando contributed to this post.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.