Steelman launches 'Flatbed Forum' tour and attacks Brunner for hailing from St. Louis
Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Sarah Steelman is aiming at rural Missouri voters with a campaign tour this week on a flatbed trailer – dubbed the “Flatbed Forum Tour -- and a new TV ad attacking rival John Brunner for being an animal-rights advocate from St. Louis.
The ad juxtaposes a picture of Brunner, a businessman from suburban St. Louis, with one of the Gateway Arch – apparently not a welcome sight for outstate voters.
It then highlights a donation that the Brunner family made to an animal-rights group and implies that Brunner would get between farmers and their cows by caring for the latter's "feelings."
Brunner's daughter, Ginny Becker, said she made the donation -- not her father -- and said the ad featured "negative, dirty, and personal family attacks."
The Steelman campaign emphasizes that Brunner and his wife were trustees of the fund from which the donation came and would have had to OK it.
In any event, the ad underscores that rural voters have become an influential voting bloc within the GOP, especially within the past decade.
And such attacks on a candidate’s St. Louis ties have worked before.
Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, a Democrat, successfully defeated then-House Speaker Catherine Hanaway in 2004 by spotlighting Hanaway’s support for a new baseball stadium in St. Louis. Carnahan also aired a TV ad that showed her on the family farm in Rolla.
Ironically, both Carnahan and Hanaway have homes in St. Louis.
This time, Steelman – wife of a prominent lawyer in Rolla – is playing up the rural angle by holding several “Flatbed Forum’’ stops on farms.
Her ad is running in southwest and central Missouri, sources say, and not in any of the state's urban areas, notably Kansas City and St. Louis.
Her ad meshes her attack against Brunner, who already has spent millions on TV ads, with a few seconds of introductory material that promotes her conservative stances against abortion and gay marriage and for guns.
The ad closes with Steelman declaring, ”I love to hunt!”
Despite his St. Louis roots, Brunner has been endorsed by two major agriculature groups -- the Missouri Pork Association and the Missouri Soybean Association -- as well the farm-equipment manufacturer, John Deere.
Steelman's ad seeks to counter such support. But it could pose some political danger for her, as well. It could alienate Steelman with suburban St. Louis voters who also can be a large bloc within the GOP.
The ad may be signaling that her two chief rivals -- Brunner and U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of Wildwood -- may be more successful in hunting down St. Louis area votes in the Aug. 7 primary.
McCaskill presses Brunner on farm bill
The ad doesn't mention that Brunner has yet to say how he would have voted on the latest congressional farm bill, which has split GOP ranks. The campaign of U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., happily pointed out that omission in a jab sent out Monday.
(Click here to listen to audio of Brunner discussing the bill in a recent interview on radio station KTRS).
"Brunner has repeatedly refused to say how he would have voted on the farm bill, instead citing his support for a defeated proposal from his Tea Party mentor that would have stalled the bill in the Senate, even as 87 percent of Missouri grapples with drought conditions that could wipe out a season’s worth of crops," McCaskill's campaign said.
“John Brunner shamefully insists on hiding his opposition to the farm bill because he knows the devastating impact his extreme policies would have on rural Missourians and farm families,” said McCaskill spokesman Erik Dorey. “By refusing to give a straight answer on a piece of legislation so crucial to our state, Brunner has made abundantly clear where his loyalties lie, and it’s not with hard-working Missourians.”
Replied Brunner's campaign: "Missouri's farmers and ranchers who care most about the farm bill reauthorization know that John Brunner stands with them on their issues, which is why they are enthusiastically endorsing his campaign."