(Unofficial) Senate Candidate John Brunner Could Shake Up GOP Primary

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When will John Brunner officially enter the Senate race?
When will John Brunner officially enter the Senate race?

St. Louis businessman John Brunner's political advisor John Hancock says that Brunner will announce his candidacy for Claire McCaskill's U.S. Senate seat "soon."

It seems like Brunner has been on the verge of entering the race for months now. And yet, throughout those months he's kept a steady low profile, his political existence seemingly kept alive by Hancock's statements and reporters (such as this one) speculating on his candidacy.

Despite relative distance from the press, a lack of public campaigning, and the fact that nobody's really sure where he stands on key issues, Brunner has emerged as a viable Republican candidate. Indeed, to some conservative voters he is a shining beacon of Outsider Anti-Establishment-ism, a legitimate alternative to professional politicos like Todd Akin, and Sarah Steelman.

He is able to lay low because he has the money to fund his own campaign. There is no urgency to crank up the fundraising effort this early. He is the chairman of Vi-Jon Inc., a health care product company best known for its Germ-X hand sanitizers. His grandparents founded the company.

So he has that "family-owned business" swag and lacks the inevitable stink that accompanies any serious venture into politics. On top of that, both of his (potential) primary opponents' campaigns have been underwhelming. Just a few days ago, Akin proudly railed against medicare, which around 60 percent of Americans support as it is. While he remains the GOP frontrunner and has hardened his conservative credentials over the last few months, he has a tendency to say controversial things for no reason. It's possible that he takes this habit too far at some point during the campaign as the cameras multiply, leaving the door open for an upset. And Steelman has had weak fundraising. A Brunner candidacy would be particularly damaging to Steelman, who has distinguished herself from Akin by playing the anti-establishment card. She has proclaimed that she "is not a Washington congressman like Todd Akin," but Brunner can say that he's not even a Jefferson City politician like Steelman, who has served as a State Senator and State Treasurer. Perhaps Steelman will split the difference and emphasize her balance of experience and outsider-ness.

It's unclear where Brunner ranks on the conservative scale of Huntsman to Bachmann. The smart bet might be that he's much closer to the latter than the former-- he worked for the Barry Goldwater presidential campaign in 1964 and the Pat Buchanan presidential campaign in 1996.

But it's all speculation until he jumps in the race and articulates his positions. In the meantime, it's Hancock, a veteran GOP consultant and former state legislator, doing much of the talking.

The Missouri Democratic Party has already taken notice of the Brunner-Hancock relationship, circulating a semi-satirical press release yesterday accusing Brunner of "hiding behind Hancock" and suggesting that "John Hancock is in fact the candidate and John Brunner is simply being led along by the hand-- or strings."

"Is Hancock afraid of what Brunner will say, or is it really Hancock running for office?" Missouri Democratic Party spokeswoman Caitlin Legacki said in the press release.

It's a criticism that Brunner will likely have to address once his campaign gets rolling. Because it jabs right at the heart of his strength: his coveted Outsider Status.

Hancock challenges the notion that Brunner has kept as low of a profile as advertised. So far, he notes, Brunner has granted an interview to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Associated Press, and PoliticMo. It's certainly not near the publicity levels of the other three campaigns, but, then again, Brunner is not an "official" candidate yet.

Brunner told PoliticMo on July 23, "what we've been doing here for the last 90 days is putting together the very best team, the best resources, best organization we can find. We've just about got it together here. Now we're looking at the launch plan, and that's where we are right now."

And that's still where they are a month and a half later. By delaying his announcement, though, he has been able to control his image, dictate his narrative. As Akin and Steelman go at it, Brunner has stayed fresh, free from the public obligations of running for office. He has been been able to sit back and calibrate his opening as the two other Republicans jockey for position. After all, given his anti-Washington narrative, the less time he spends campaigning, the less time the public has to view him as a "politician" instead of a "businessman."

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