Businessman Brunner joins GOP race to battle McCaskill

ST. CHARLES (AP) — St. Louis-area businessman John Brunner joined the Republican field challenging Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill on Monday, highlighting his successes — and failures — in running a company as reasons why he should be elevated from the political unknown to the U.S. Senate.

Brunner declared his candidacy in front of two large American flags hung besides boxes of nail polish remover and petroleum jelly at a distribution facility for his family’s long-time business, Vi-Jon Inc. — symbolism intended to stress his experience in creating products and jobs in a campaign likely to focus on the economy.

“Unfortunately, while we have been manufacturing products, our representatives in Washington have been manufacturing debt, manufacturing waste, manufacturing red tape while spending away our future,” Brunner told supporters gathered for his announcement. “If the label says, ‘Made in Washington, D.C.,’ it costs too much and does too little.”

Brunner, 59, of the St. Louis suburb of Frontenac, is the third Republican seeking to challenge McCaskill in Missouri’s 2012 Senate race, which is one of the top targets nationally for Republicans hoping to regain a Senate majority. Already in the field are former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman of Rolla and U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, who represents part of suburban St. Louis.

All three Republican candidates have sought to link McCaskill to President Barack Obama, who narrowly lost Missouri in 2008. But Brunner brings a new element to the race: the ability to spend millions of his own dollars to broadcast his message. Brunner said he expects a Republican primary could cost up to $5 million but declined to say how much of that he intends to personally finance, asserting only generally: “The bottom line is that we’re just not going to run out of gas.”

By waiting until early October to announce his candidacy, Brunner was able to avoid having to file a quarterly campaign finance report for the period the ended Sept. 30 and won’t have to report his campaign finances until the end of January. Brunner said he incurred some expenses before Monday, but his campaign said he was not required to report them yet because he had been only testing the waters on whether to run and had paid the bills himself instead of through donations.

McCaskill’s office declined to comment about Brunner’s candidacy and referred questions to the Missouri Democratic Party, which filed a Federal Elections Commission complaint last week alleging Brunner had wrongly failed to file papers as a candidate despite already spending money on a campaign.

“Brunner made the choice to file for the Senate after the deadline for financial disclosures, which means he’s spitting in the face of transparency and accountability,” said Democratic spokeswoman Caitlin Legacki. “If Brunner’s operating his campaign like this, we know we can expect more big money, back room deals from him if he’s elected — and that’s the last thing we need more of in Washington.”

Akin and Steelman were more reserved. Steelman tweeted to Brunner: “Welcome to the race! The water is fine,” but declined to comment further to The Associated Press. Akin campaign manager Karl Hanson said he looked forward to a vigorous debate during the campaign, adding: “At the end of the day, we believe the proven record of leadership that Todd Akin has demonstrated will prevail.”

Brunner took pride Monday in the fact that he has no experience as a political candidate, though he has contributed thousands of dollars to others, including to Akin’s previous congressional bids.

He pledged to be “a conservative citizen-senator” who would serve no more than two terms and would back constitutional amendments requiring congressional term limits and a balanced budget. He also vowed “to end earmarks,” “protect life,” defend Second Amendment gun rights and repeal Obama’s health care law, which he dubbed “Obama-claire.”

Brunner is former Marine captain and third-generation partial owner of Vi-Jon, which his grandparents founded under a different name in 1908 as a manufacturer of peroxide. Over the years, the company expanded to cosmetics and other private-label health care products and now is perhaps best known for its Germ-X hand sanitizer. In the 1990s, Brunner said the company incurred a lot of debt for new facilities and equipment that put the business “at the brink of disaster.” Much of the company was sold in 1995 and, since then, he said it has rebounded from a workforce of several dozen people to employ about 1,500.

“It was a lesson I have never forgotten and one most of our career politicians have never understood,” Brunner said. “America cannot borrow and spend its way to prosperity.”

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