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Carnahan takes Senate seat won posthumously by husband

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Of the 11 new senators on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, one of them didn't want to be there.

Sen. Jean Carnahan  

Jean Carnahan was sworn in Wednesday to the seat her husband, the late Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, won posthumously in November. The popular two-term Democrat died in a plane crash in October during his Senate campaign.

I have just gone through a very bittersweet moment in the Senate chamber," Carnahan, also a Democrat, said after the ceremony. "I always felt that I would be an observer from the balcony."

Carnahan shares many of her husband's goals on education, Social Security and fiscal policy. She says she's not here just to warm a seat, but wants to get something done.

"You look at the challenges before you and you take them as they come, one step at a time," Carnahan said. "And sometimes you can't see things -- it's not always clear. And you go one step at a time. That's what I've been doing the last few months, and that's what I intend to do now."

Carnahan spent her first hour on Capitol Hill on Wednesday checking out her new office -- a small space, given that she is ranked 99 out of 100 senators in terms of seniority. But she said it would be just fine.

"Most of my life I've officed at a dining room or basement, so this looks pretty good," she said.

Most of her life she's been simply Mrs. Carnahan, wife of a career politician. Two of her children made the trip to Washington to watch her be sworn in: Daughter Robin Carnahan said her mother is her role model.

"Unlike most people who come here, this wasn't a goal of her life," Robin Carnahan said. "This wasn't something that she personally thought she wanted to do. So, she came here because she thought there were some important causes that daddy worked for and she wanted to keep going."

Carnahan, Byrd
Carnahan is sworn in alongside Senate veteran Robert Byrd of West Virginia  

Carnahan was never a politician, but she has the personality -- stopping to talk with workers who worked all night preparing her office.

Her husband's death came too late for Missouri's Democratic Party to name another candidate for the Senate, but a sympathy vote and his successor's promise to name Mrs. Carnahan to the seat if he won the Senate race helped put her over the top. Wednesday, she called her entry into the Senate "an historic moment."

"First of all, because I am taking Harry Truman's seat in the Senate, and I am the first woman to represent Missouri in the United States Senate," she said. "So I think this is going to be a particularly meaningful time for me, and it can be a meaningful time for the state of Missouri."

As a senator, Carnahan will also be asked to vote on the nomination of her late husband's rival, former Sen. John Ashcroft, to the post of attorney general in the incoming Bush administration.

"Like all the nominees that we've had recently, we are going to have to give them a fair and full hearing in committee process," she said. "And that is what I suspect we will do with John Ashcroft and with all the other nominees as well."

In the weeks since fate propelled her into public life, Carnahan said she has received more than 10,000 letters offering condolences and congratulations, and many have said they admire her strength.

"We're so proud of your mom. I was one of the biggest fans your dad had here," Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy told Carnahan's children.



Wednesday, January 3, 2001


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