A congenial forum of Republican hopefuls for the U.S. Senate from Missouri turned nasty Saturday during its final minutes when John Brunner’s campaign distributed a statement accusing a rival of having an “abysmal anti-conservative record.”
The targeted candidate, Sarah Steelman, fired back afterwards that Brunner lacked the courage to make the criticism himself during the 90-minute session at Crown Center in Kansas City.
“He didn’t have the guts to talk to me about it right here in front of everybody,” Steelman said. “Maybe he’s worried about me.”
Brunner, a St. Louis businessman who has never held public office, said he opted not to confront Steelman because the forum, the first among all three Senate candidates, took place before a roomful of fellow party members gathered for the party’s annual Lincoln Days gala.
“To the best we can, we follow Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment (not to criticize fellow Republicans) and, especially here with a bunch of Republicans, try to be a little nice in this first setup here,” Brunner said. “They’ll be plenty of times we’re going to be a little tougher on the issues.”
The statement distributed by the Brunner aide criticized Steelman’s “first 60 days” agenda that she unveiled Friday in Kansas City. The Steelman plan calls for pushing immediately for adoption of a balanced-budget amendment, a “flatter, fairer tax,” term limits for Congress and a repeal of the new federal health care plan, among other things.
Brunner’s campaign ripped the plan as “nothing more than a cut, copy and paste job of what nearly every other Republican federal candidate and incumbent supports, including John Brunner.”
Steelman vowed to cap the size of government, Brunner’s campaign said, but as state treasurer, she increased expenditures in her office by about 40 percent. Steelman denied that.
“Sarah Steelman’s attempt to hide her anti-conservative record on spending, taxes, health care entitlements and growth of government is doomed to fail,” Brunner spokesman Todd Abrajano said in the statement.
Steelman responded: “What we need in Washington is action. All we’re getting is talk, rhetoric and no results. I’m not going to be that type of senator if elected.”
Also attending the forum was the race’s third candidate, Rep. Todd Akin from the St. Louis area. So far, the race appears to lack a consensus front-runner.
The Steelman-Brunner exchange ended what had been a generally polite forum that featured few disagreements on issues ranging from national defense to foreign aid to the new national health care law. All three oppose the health care law and question the amount the U.S. spends on foreign aid.
The winner of the August primary will take on Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill in the fall, but the three mentioned President Barack Obama more often than McCaskill.
One area of divergence came on whether Interstate 70 should be turned into a toll road, because the cost of the highway’s proposed reconstruction totals billions of dollars that state officials say they don’t have.
Akin said he could support tolls because that amounts to a “user tax” paid for by motorists who drive on the highway. Steelman opposed the idea, saying the money for repairs could come when lawmakers reprioritize spending decisions.
Brunner said he had not yet made up his mind.
“I can’t say I’m against tolls,” he said. “I’d like to understand more of this idea before I can effectively talk about it.”
Asked about job creation, Brunner said the key was removing burdensome government regulations.
“Just get government out of the way, get the regulations off our backs,” he said. “Let Americans start working.”
Akin said the government was doing several things “guaranteed to destroy jobs,” such as burying employers in red tape, taxing them too much and creating an uncertain job climate.
“We have actually declared war on certain kinds of businesses,” he said, speaking of the coal industry and others.
Steelman also cited high taxes and unnecessary regulation as problems.