Republican U.S. Senate candidates head into debate with heightened tensions, attacks
Tonight in St. Charles, Missouri’s three major Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate are meeting for yet another debate.
But the stakes are arguably higher, with their primary showdown just over nine weeks away – and the first negative TV ad now on the air.
As a result, tensions could be heightened as the three – St. Louis businessman John Brunner, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Wildwood – face off at 7:30 p.m. at Lindenwood University’s J. Scheidegger Center’s Bezemes Family Theater, 2300 West Clay St. in St. Charles.
According to the university’s release: “The moderator will be Jamie Allman, of 97.1-FM, which is organizing the debate. Panelists include Dana Loesch, also of 97.1-FM; Mike Ferguson, of Missouri News Horizon, an independent nonprofit news organization; Betsey Bruce of KTVI-TV; and Dan Nowak, a St. Charles police officer and student in Lindenwood’s master of public administration program.
“The debate will be broadcast live on FM-97.1 and on Lindenwood’s student-run television station LUTV, which is available at channel 989 in Charter Cable’s digital tier, (and) channel 99 in the AT&T U-Verse line-up.”
Verbal volleys over Brunner's new ad
Brunner, who has already spent $2 million on TV ads, went up last week with the contest’s first attack ad.
Brunner's campaign manager Jon Seaton told reporters last week that “the ad takes a very straightforward and fact-based approach to comparing John Brunner’s record of manufacturing and job creation with Sarah Steelman's and Todd Akin’s history of wasteful spending and debt increases.”
Brunner cites Akin’s votes in Congress and Steelman's votes in the General Assembly, that he contends “put our country, and our state, into debt.”
Steelman and Akin contend that Brunner is misrepresenting their records.
In Steelman’s case, the ad is referring, in part, to 2003 action by the GOP majority in the General Assembly to approve the issuance of revenue bonds to help balance the state’s budget, as required by the state constitution. A number of top Republicans, including Steelman, backed the action.
In Akin’s case, the ad is referring, in part, to his earlier voters in Congress in favor of raising the debt ceiling and his support for “earmarks’’ to direct federal money to projects in his 2nd District.
Steelman has countered by pointing to some recent financial problems at Vi-Jon, Brunner’s previously family-owned company that produces personal-care products. The company laid off some employees last fall and since then has seen its credit rating down-graded. (Brunner’s family sold the company, but he remains on the board.)
The ad even prompted the trio’s Democratic target – U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill – to defend Steelman and blast the ad on Twitter.
Steelman, Brunner focusing on each other
Steelman and Brunner have been sparring for weeks. He has questioned her support for lawsuit changes – dubbed “tort reform,” citing her votes against reform bills in 2003 and 2004 in the state Senate.
She has pointed out her votes in favor of other tort-reform bills and has asserted that Brunner lacks an understanding of how government works.
Until last week, Akin had been staying out of the verbal line of fire between Brunner and Steelman. But that changed once Brunner’s ad began airing.
Akin has joined Steelman in asserting the Brunner is violating former President Ronald Reagan’s “11th commandment , ‘not to speak ill of fellow Republicans.’ ”
Said Akin in a jab against Brunner: “This is the typical behavior we all expect from a candidate with no record who hires D.C. consultants to run his campaign: avoid debates, take polls before forming your positions, and attack your opponents.”
Brunner, meanwhile, sticks by his ad. And since he’s largely funding his U.S. Senate campaign by himself, all sides expect more TV ads to follow in the coming weeks.
All of which could prompt tonight’s debate to be even more combative.