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Missouri Businessman John Brunner Runs as an Outsider

by Carl Wicklander, published
(Columbia Daily Tribune / Don Shrubshell)

Among the more closely watched US Senate races this year will be in Missouri. First-term incumbent, Democrat Claire McCaskill narrowly won her first term in 2006 and faces no intraparty challenger in 2012. In Washington, McCaskill has supported two of the more controversial bills of the Obama administration, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, known respectively as the "stimulus" and "ObamaCare." In a state that squeaked into the McCain column in 2008 and is firmly with the Republicans in 2012, the Missouri GOP knows McCaskill is a prime candidate for political extinction.

The Missouri Republican Party is fielding three major candidates in its August 7 primary: US Representative Todd Akin, former Missouri State Treasurer Sarah Steelman, and businessman John Brunner. On the surface, the differences between the candidates has been subtle with local media describing the contestants as trying to "out-conservative one another."

Akin and Steelman are well-known names in the Show-Me State. Akin has served in government continuously since 1989 when he was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives and finally to the US House of Representatives in 2000. But outside Missouri Akin is perhaps as well-known for his clumsy statements.

In 2011 during a golf tournament on NBC the network edited out the words "under God" from a pre-taped clip featuring the pledge of allegiance and Akin responded in a radio interview that "the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God." In 2012 Akin was called out in a speech by President Obama after the representative referred to the 3% student loan interest rate as "stage three cancer of socialism." Akin's side claimed that the congressman was misquoted but it didn't make the statement any harder to mock.

Steelman has a lesser overall profile than Akin and has mostly relied on her experience as state treasurer to portray an image of a responsible custodian of finances. She recently received a boost from an endorsement from former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

Businessman John Brunner, former CEO of Vi-Jon personal care products whose most well-known product is Germ-X hand sanitizer, is perhaps the most intriguing candidate because he has never before sought office. In a race where the establishment and pragmatic vote is split between two old hands, Brunner has been able to capitalize as the outsider.

The youth-oriented Young Americans for Liberty PAC (YAL PAC) endorsed Brunner among others for his support for auditing the Federal Reserve, his opposition to the "unconstitutional provisions" of both the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act, and removing American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Brunner's website says little about foreign policy and civil liberties and his use of the phrase "unconstitutional provisions" is a little shifty, leaving open that he considers some parts of the Patriot Act and NDAA constitutional. The Missouri race has been defined almost entirely around economics and a candidate's ability to defeat the incumbent, so it isn't clear where YAL PAC is finding some of their information on Brunner's stances.

Regardless, Brunner is also playing the part of the politician. In an interview on local radio's popular "Dana Show" in March, Brunner was asked which of the remaining Republican presidential candidates best fit his profile. He answered, "All three of these folks are good, solid conservatives. They're all headed in the right direction. But the difference between any of these three and President Obama is the difference between night and day."

From this clip it's unclear who Brunner meant by "all three of these folks." He obviously means Romney and Santorum. But it would be interesting to know whether he meant Ron Paul or Newt Gingrich as his third because by the time of the interview the Gingrich campaign had entered stage three as Todd Akin might say.

Brunner might have tipped his hand about his true philosophy after a candidates' debate earlier this month, a race characterized by the candidates' generally similar agendas, by calling presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, "just the kind of leader we need right now" when even the more established candidates were more reserved in their support for the former governor of Massachusetts.

According to Real Clear Politics, nearly every poll shows that any of the Republican senatorial candidates holds a lead over Senator McCaskill. When Missouri Republicans vote on August 7 they will have a few options. Businessman John Brunner is offering a different background for voters to consider, but he is also showing he is willing to play the game to get to Washington.

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