Robin Carnahan grew up near Rolla, Missouri, the only daughter in a family of 4 children. She attended Rolla High School and graduated, magna cum laude, from William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, with a bachelor's degree in Economics.
Carnahan received her Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree in 1986 from the University of Virginia School of Law where she served as Executive Editor of the Virginia Journal of International Law. Following graduation, she returned to Missouri to practice business and corporate law with the St. Louis firm of Thompson & Mitchell.
In 1990, Carnahan went to work in central Europe as part of a team from the National Democratic Institute. In this role, she helped draft voting laws, train new political leaders and monitor elections in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Since then, she has led international election observer delegations and promoted democracy in a dozen countries and currently serves on NDI's Board of Directors. During the Clinton Administration, Carnahan served as special assistant to the chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the United States working on programs to help US companies increase exports of US goods and services. Later Carnahan founded and managed an international trade and business consulting firm to advise public and privately held US companies expanding into global markets.
Today, Carnahan also manages her family's farm and Angus cattle operation outside of Rolla, Missouri.
On November 2, 2004, Carnahan was elected as Missouri's 38th Secretary of State. In her first bid for elected office, she defeated then-Speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives Catherine Hanaway (R) by over 120,000 votes. In November 2008, Carnahan was reelected with nearly 62% of the vote by receiving over 1.7 million votes, the most votes ever cast for a candidate in Missouri history. In 2005 she was named one of 24 "rising stars" in American politics by the Aspen Institute's Rodel Foundation, a leading nonpartisan think tank.
As CEO of a $50mm government agency, Carnahan emerged as a national leader in pioneering the use of innovative technology to save money and improve government service delivery for businesses and citizens. To reduce red-tape and costs for businesses, she worked closely with business leaders to identify service improvements, increase online business filings by more than 80%, streamline regulations and reduce filing fees by over $19 million. As the state's securities regulator during the 2008 financial crisis, Carnahan gained national recognition for negotiating record settlements on behalf of investors in a number of high-profile cases, including a national settlement in August 2008 in which Wachovia Securities agreed to repay over 40,000 investors who had nearly $9 billion frozen in auction-rate securities accounts.
Carnahan also worked to increase open access to public documents and data by expanding online availability of information through the Missouri State Archives and Missouri State Library. The award-winning Death Records and Missouri Digital Heritage Initiative projects received over 23 million hits in 2012.
In 2008, Carnahan worked with Missouri's local election authorities to ensure all eligible Missourians had access to the ballot box. She has been a strong advocate for early voting, paper ballots and better training for Election Day poll workers.
Carnahan served as Co-Chair of both the Elections and Securities Committees of the National Association of Secretaries of State. She also served on the Executive Committee and as Chair of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State.
Carnahan's tenure in office focused on providing outstanding customer service to Missouri businesses, financial professionals, investors, voters, genealogists, researchers and hundreds of thousands of other customers. In the closeout audit at the end of her term in 2013, Republican State Auditor Thomas Schweich gave Carnahan's office the highest possible performance rating of "excellent".
On February 3, 2009, Carnahan announced she would run for the United States Senate in 2010 to replace retiring U.S. Senator Kit Bond, saying it's time to “stop the political bickering and start solving problems”. She was elected the Democratic nominee in the primary election held August 3, 2010.
In October, Carnahan was endorsed by the Kansas City Star, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and the St. Louis American. However, Carnahan was defeated by Republican Roy Blunt as part of a Republican wave of victories in the midterm election.
After leaving public office Carnahan joined the global strategy firm Albright Stonebridge Group, founded by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She remained in Missouri and began advising civic technology firms and organizations seeking to help government deliver better services for citizens and cut costs for taxpayers through smarter use of technology. She is a board member and serviced as a strategic adviser for LaunchCode, an organization that connects people to economic opportunity through paid apprenticeships in programming and technology. She has been regularly featured in the media and spoken before numerous national groups and congressional and legislative committees on finance, regulatory and elections issues.
In 2013 Carnahan was named a Fellow at the University of Chicago's non-partisan Institute of Politics. Carnahan also serves on the Board of Directors of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and on the National Advisory Committee of the Democracy Fund.
In February 2016, Carnahan joined the General Services Administration as the Director of the State and Local practice of 18F. There, she leads a team of digital technology consultants who provide consulting and acquisition services to help state and local agencies use the best practices of human-centered design, agile, and modular procurement.
Carnahan often speaks about using innovation and technology to improve delivery of government services, including at Tech@State, Code for America Summit, Personal Democracy Forum and the 2016 IT Solutions Management Conference FedScoop magazine named Carnahan as one of the Top Women in Tech 2017.
Carnahan comes from a family that has been active in Missouri politics for several generations. Her grandfather, A. S. J. Carnahan was elected to the House of Representatives as a Democrat from south-central Missouri. He served only one term before being defeated in 1946, but ran again in 1948 and won. Carnahan served in the House for six more terms and in 1961 was appointed by President John F. Kennedy as the first American ambassador to Sierra Leone. Her father, Mel Carnahan, served in the state legislature, as State Treasurer, Lt. Governor and as Governor of Missouri from 1993 until his death in 2000 in a plane crash while campaigning for the US Senate against incumbent John Ashcroft. Her mother, Jean Carnahan, became the first woman from Missouri to serve in the United States Senate from 2001 to 2003 when she was appointed to fill the seat Gov. Carnahan won posthumously.
Her brother Russ Carnahan was a member of Congress and represented the southern portion of the St. Louis Metropolitan Area. Her brother Tom Carnahan founded Wind Capital Group. Robin Carnahan is married to Juan Carlos Antolinez.
On February 27, 2006, Carnahan announced that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She continued to serve as Secretary of State while undergoing treatment and her cancer is in remission.