John Brunner likely to announce Missouri Senate bid

Wednesday, September 28, 2011 | 4:33 p.m. CDT; updated 6:02 p.m. CDT, Thursday, September 29, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — St. Louis area businessman John Brunner is expected to announce his candidacy for U.S. Senate next Monday, making him the third Republican officially seeking to challenge Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill.

Brunner's political advisor, John Hancock, confirmed Wednesday that Brunner "will be making a major announcement Monday morning about his political future."

Brunner, 59, of the St. Louis suburb of Frontenac, would join U.S. Rep. Todd Akin and former Missouri Treasurer Sarah Steelman in a Republican primary next August for the right to take on McCaskill in the November 2012 general election.

Brunner, who until recently has served as chairman of the health care products company Vi-Jon Inc., could bring some considerable money to the race. In April, Brunner said he was seriously considering a Senate bid and would be willing to put some of his own money into a campaign, though he did not say how much.

Since then, Brunner has been assembling a potential campaign team of consultants, schedulers, communications personnel and pollsters and has appeared at some Republican events.

Brunner's candidacy announcement is planned to occur at a St. Charles distribution center for Vi-Jon Inc., which makes Germ-X hand sanitizer and various other private-label health care products for stores. Brunner is a third-generation partial owner of Vi-Jon, which his grandparents founded under a different name in 1908 as a manufacturer of peroxide.

Although he would be making his first run for elected office, Brunner has been involved as a donor and supporter of various other campaigns. In past years, he has contributed several thousand dollars to Akin's campaigns for a St. Louis area congressional seat. When Akin announced his own Senate candidacy in May, he called Brunner "a fantastic guy," adding that he was thankful for his past support.

Missouri's U.S. Senate seat is one of the top targets for Republicans hoping to regain a Senate majority in the 2012 elections. That's partly because Missouri is a traditional swing state, but also because Republicans view McCaskill — who is seeking re-election to a second term — as politically vulnerable. Earlier this year, she reimbursed the federal treasury $88,000 for taxpayer funded travel on an airplane in which she and her husband have an ownership stake. She later paid St. Louis County about $320,000 in back property taxes, interest and penalties related to the plane.

Republicans also hope to capitalize on McCaskill's close ties to President Barack Obama, who narrowly lost Missouri in 2008. McCaskill was an early supporter of Obama during his presidential campaign and has remained an ally in the Senate, backing some of his most high-profile initiatives, such as the 2009 stimulus act and the 2010 health care law.

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