JEFFERSON CITY — The field of Republicans challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill could get a surprise addition from a St. Louis businessman who has the ability to pour some of his own cash into a campaign.
John Brunner, the chairman of health care products company Vi-Jon Inc., confirmed to The Associated Press on Tuesday that he is considering entering Missouri's 2012 Senate race.
"I'm very serious," Brunner said. "We've got a fire raging here in our country and our economy. It's going to take an additional level of character and competence to deal with the crisis."
McCaskill, a freshman senator closely aligned with President Barack Obama, is among the Republicans' top targets as they seek to regain a majority in the Senate in next year's election.
Already vulnerable because of Missouri's swing-state status, McCaskill recently took a sharp political hit for her taxpayer-funded travel on an airplane in which she and her husband have an ownership stake. She reimbursed the federal government $88,000 and later paid St. Louis County about $320,000 in back property taxes, interest and penalties related to the plane.
Yet Republicans have struggled to coalesce around a challenger. The only two declared candidates so far are former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman of Rolla and St. Louis attorney Ed Martin, a former gubernatorial chief of staff who lost a bid for Congress last year. Both Steelman and Martin reported fairly lackluster fundraising in the first quarter of 2011 compared to McCaskill's $1 million in receipts.
Brunner told the AP that he would be willing to put some of his own financial fortune into a Senate bid, although he declined to say how much.
"If I believe in myself, I'd make a contribution and hope that others feel the same way," Brunner said.
Also considering the Senate race is Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, in whose suburban St. Louis district Brunner lives. Neither Akin nor Brunner gave a timeline for when they would announce a decision on entering the Senate race.