Missouri GOP challengers trail Sen. McCaskill in money

Missouri’s Republican U.S. Senate candidates are struggling to raise money in their quest to challenge Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill — a hardship they blame on the economy.

Campaign finance summaries released this week show that Republicans Todd Akin, Sarah Steelman and John Brunner raised a combined total of about $520,000 in individual donations during the last three months of 2011. That’s barely half of the $923,000 that McCaskill raised from individuals.

The Republican candidates also are lagging well behind McCaskill in available campaign cash. After expenses, McCaskill reported having $4.8 million in her account to start 2012. Akin had less than $1.2 million. Steelman had about $573,000. And Brunner reported about $209,000 in his campaign account after burning through $1 million of his own money.

Polls show McCaskill can expect a close race from whoever wins the Republican primary in August. But the finance figures indicate the Republican candidate may need to rely on ads from national party groups or independent political action committees to compete with McCaskill. American Crossroads, a conservative group connected to Republican strategist Karl Rove, already has run ads and paid for billboards targeting McCaskill.

With the election still months away, some Republican donors may be holding onto their money to see if a frontrunner emerges in the Republican race, said Jay Dow, an associate political science professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. But he said the main reason Republicans candidates are trailing in fundraising may have more to do with McCaskill.

“Incumbents are hugely advantaged in raising money,” Dow said Wednesday. “To say they’re doing poorly, given that they’re up against an incumbent is probably a little bit of an overstatement.”

During a debate Monday night in Branson, Steelman and Akin both acknowledged they were finding it more difficult to attract donations than they had expected. Brunner did not participate in the debate.

“Fundraising is tough right now. It’s a hard economy, people are hurting out there,” said Steelman, a former state treasurer who reported raising $83,648 during the last three months of 2011.

Akin, a congressman from suburban St. Louis, reported raising $207,447 from individuals this past quarter and an additional $23,500 from political action committees. He said fundraising struggles have forced him to modify his campaign strategy.

“We started out raising a lot of money, and it’s become increasingly difficult,” Akin said during the debate. “So consequently, we have adjusted our campaign plan and also the rate (at which) we’re spending money.” But Akin added: “I think that’s good and healthy.”

Both Akin and Steelman have turned to their sons to help manage their campaigns, instead of paying professional campaign managers.

Brunner’s campaign manager is Jon Seaton, a former presidential campaign aide to Sen. John McCain who also worked in the White House of President George W. Bush. Brunner has wealth from his family’s long-time business Vi-Jon Inc. and has said generally that he will not allow his campaign “to run out of gas.”

But Brunner fared little better than the other Republican candidates when it came to raising money from others. He reported raising $229,067 from individuals during the past quarter.

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