Missouri GOP Senate primary anyone's game

???I don???t have any idea who???s going to win the (Republican) Senate primary Tuesday,??? Missouri???s Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder told Human Events Thursday. ???It wouldn???t surprise me if any of the three (candidates) won.???

Kinder, himself in a primary fight for renomination Aug. 7, could well have been speaking for many fellow Republicans in the Show-Me State. With narrow 2006 winner Claire McCaskill considered one of the most vulnerable of Democratic senators facing the voters this year, polls show any of the three Republicans vying for the Senate nomination either leading or tied with the embattled incumbent. The question is which of the diverse trio do voters choose: millionaire businessman John Brunner, former State Treasurer and 2008 gubernatorial hopeful Sarah Steelman, or Rep. Todd Akin.

In the last week, the contest has drawn national attention and some national political figures. Possibly anticipating Brunner as the nominee, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid???s own political action committee has already launched television broadsides against the businessman-candidate. Steelman made major news across the country when Sarah Palin announced she was coming to Missouri to stump for her. Akin, thought to be lagging behind the others, got a big boost with his strong endorsement from Mike Hucakbee.

The first true businessman who never held elective office to be nominated for the Senate by Missouri Republicans since Ozark Air Lines Chairman Jean Paul Bradshaw in 1964, the 60-year-old Brunner took over his family???s Vi-Jon company after being discharged from the Marine Corps in 1978. The company, which provides everyday goods for stores like Walmart and Target, was facing ruination. Brunner streamlined it to the point where its profits skyrocketed and finally sold it to the Berkshire Hathaway Company for an estimated $300 million in 2002.

???You can compare me to (Wisconsin???s Republican Sen.) Ron Johnson, who was a businessman before winning his Senate seat, and who has campaigned for me,??? Brunner told Human Events. A passionate reader of Hayek, von Mises, and Milton Friedman, Brunner wants to bring ???common business sense??? to Washington and ???roll back government and taxes. The idea of a businessman who owes nothing to anyone running against McCaskill must scare the Democrats, since Harry Reid and (McCaskill) are running those attack ads against me before I???m the nominee.???

After volunteering that he has spent ???about $7 million??? of his own money on the campaign, Brunner was widely considered the front-runner a week ago. A St. Louis Post Dispatch poll showed that, among likely primary voters, Brunner led Steelman 33 to 27 percent, with Akin trailing at 17 percent.

But that was before the news ???the other Sarah??? was coming to Missouri to possibly start a last-minute ???Steelman surge.???

The ???other Sarah??? is Sarah Palin, who not only endorsed Steelman but who made two personal appearances on her behalf in Missouri this past weekend. With Palin???s endorsement proving a strong tool in GOP primaries this year, the former Alaska governor rarely makes personal appearances. Last week, she did come into Texas for tea party-backed Senate hopeful Ted Cruz and clearly helped him win 57 percent of the vote against a much-better financed opponent.

A former state senator as well as treasurer, Steelman ran as a Palin-style outsider and lost a tight race for the gubernatorial nomination to the candidate backed by most GOP leaders. Conservative on most issues — and a big hit at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington this year — Steelman???s one noticeable difference from most on the right is her opposition to capping judgments in lawsuits (a position generally shared by trial lawyers).

Rounding out the contest is six-term Rep. Akin (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 97 percent), who has a strong following among evangelical conservatives and values voters. The St. Louis area lawmaker trails Brunner and Steelman in terms of money raised, but his supporters in the ???church network??? in Missouri are not to be underestimated. Certainly, he got a boost with his recent blessing from Huckabee.

The Senate primary in Missouri is sure to be closely watched from the national press — first, because Claire McCaskill is in such a precarious political situation this fall and second, the primary is truly anyone???s game.