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Brunner’s Entry Stirs Up Competitive Missouri Race

Missouri businessman John Brunner (R) announced his bid Monday to take on Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), roiling the waters of a key race with national implications.

Brunner, chairman of pharmaceutical and personal care products company Vi-Jon, is likely to be at least a partial self-funder and joins a Republican primary field with no clear frontrunner. His two opponents are six-term Rep. Todd Akin and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman.

"This completely changes the race," said Republican consultant Jeff Roe, who is based in Kansas City and isn't affiliated with any Senate candidate. "Missouri's never had a self-funder like this at a high-level office."

In his announcement, Brunner positioned himself as a Washington, D.C., outsider.

"I came to realize, like many of you, that career politicians with political experience alone are unable to restore the American dream. They have no answers and have lost their way because they have no real world experience to guide them," the ex-Marine said in his announcement speech.

In a political climate that is virulently anti-Washington, his outsider status could be a decided advantage. But tested politicians have advantages, too: People know who they are, and they know how to campaign.

"Brunner is going to get a lot of establishment support," said a Republican with a deep knowledge of Missouri politics. "The party regulars have looked to him and hoped that he would run. There's a fear that Akin and Steelman, that neither of them are ready for prime time."

But, of course, it's also unclear whether Brunner is ready for the rigors of a statewide campaign.

"John Brunner is untested," said Missouri-based GOP consultant James Harris, who is also not affiliated with any Missouri Senate campaign. He noted that wealthy self-funders did not do well during the last cycle.

He said a key early hurdle for Brunner will be introducing himself to enough primary voters before the primary contest on Aug. 7. The two largest regions with a heavy concentration of GOP primary voters are the St. Louis media market, which has a bit less than a third of all GOP voters in the state, and the Springfield market, which has a little more than a quarter of those voters, Harris said.

"Akin has about 75 percent name ID in the St. Louis market he's pretty well-known," Harris said. Steelman has some name recognition from her time running for statewide office, he said, and she also has a strong presence in southwest Missouri.

"For Brunner, the challenge is: Where do you go to get the votes?" Harris said. "No one knows John Brunner."

Roe noted that with early television advertising buys, Brunner could likely catch up on name identification with Steelman and Akin among likely GOP primary voters.

But gaining name ID is only one part of Brunner's challenge.

"Whether he will be a retail politician will be the deciding factor of his electability because Todd Akin and Sarah Steelman much more than speaking to crowds of 500 people they are retail politicians," Roe said.

Harris agreed that person-to-person politics would be key. "You look at some of our most successful politicians people like Kit Bond, John Ashcroft and Roy Blunt they've all excelled at retail politics," he said.

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