By DAVID A. LIEB
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - U.S. Senate candidate John Brunner launched the first negative ad of Missouri's Republican primary race Tuesday, accusing his two GOP opponents of "manufacturing debt" with votes they cast as lawmakers.
Brunner, a St. Louis businessman, has been running ads for months targeting his potential opponent, Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, and President Barack Obama. But with two months to go before the Aug. 7 primary, Brunner has shifted his sights to a pair of Republican rivals - U.S. Rep. Todd Akin and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman.
"While John Brunner was creating jobs and manufacturing products, Todd Akin and Sarah Steelman were manufacturing debt," the Brunner ad asserts.
The ad cites votes Akin took to increase the nation's debt limit and to approve bills containing spending earmarks. It refers to votes Steelman took as a state senator in support of bonds and budget bills authorizing particular projects.
Akin's campaign said Brunner had broken what former President Ronald Reagan referred as the 11th commandment - to not speak ill of any fellow Republican.
"This is the typical behavior we all expect from a candidate with no record who hires DC consultants to run his campaign," Akin campaign spokesman Ryan Hite said in a written statement.
Steelman's campaign had no immediate comment Tuesday about Brunner's ad.
The ad highlights what is likely to become a theme in the Republican primary. While Akin and Steelman can point to past experience to assert they have stood up for conservative ideals, Brunner can pick apart their votes to contend otherwise, while highlighting the fact that he has never served in elected office.
Brunner campaign manager Jon Seaton on Tuesday referred to Akin and Steelman as Brunner's "two politician opponents."
"This isn't what you'd call a negative ad in the classic sense of the term. These are not personal attacks. We're not using a bunch of grainy, unflattering pictures. We're not playing ominous music," Seaton said. But "it's important for voters to know there's a clear difference here."
Although Brunner's ad criticizes debt-related votes by his opponents, Brunner also has a history of running up debt. He has said his family's health-care products firm, Vi-Jon Inc., incurred a lot of debt for new facilities and equipment that put the business "at the brink of disaster" in the 1990s. Much of the company was sold in 1995 and, since then, the company has rebounded from several dozen to about 1,500 employees. Brunner has cited his personal business experience as a lesson for why the nation should halt its deficit spending.
Many of Brunner's past TV ads have been financed with personal financial contributions, but Brunner's campaign declined to disclose the funding source for the newest ad.