John Brunner contemplating Missouri gubernatorial campaign

Friday, February 14, 2014 | 3:35 p.m. CST; updated 4:50 p.m. CST, Friday, February 14, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY — Former U.S. Senate candidate John Brunner said Friday he is considering running for Missouri governor in 2016, which could lead to a multicandidate Republican primary for what will be an open office.

Brunner told The Associated Press that he has received encouragement to run, but wants to wait to evaluate the gubernatorial race until after this year's elections.

"I'm not saying no to the opportunity is the best way of putting it," Brunner said.

"If there's opportunities where people across Missouri can continue to speak their mind and have their voice be heard, and they want to look for somebody with more experiences to solve the problems that we have here in Missouri than maybe the other two candidates, I'd be willing to be considered" for governor, he added.

Brunner's comments came a few days after former U.S. attorney and Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway announced her Republican candidacy for governor. Republican Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich also might run for governor in 2016, but he first must face re-election this year.

Republicans are under pressure to organize a gubernatorial campaign because Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster has been preparing to run for governor for nearly a year.

The top executive office will be open because Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon is prohibited by term limits from seeking re-election.

Brunner, 62, of suburban St. Louis, is the former CEO and chairman of Vi-Jon Inc., a health care products company founded by his grandparents more than a century ago. He made his political debut in the 2012 election, spending millions of his own dollars while losing to U.S. Rep. Todd Akin in a multiway Republican primary for U.S. Senate. Akin later was defeated by Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Brunner said Friday that primaries "have a way of sometimes bringing the right solutions" but acknowledged that they also can result in candidates who have "about chopped each other into pieces" while draining their finances for the general election.

If he runs again, Brunner said he won't rely so heavily on his own money but will use a "more fundamental, grassroots, highly participative type of approach."

Koster already has nearly $1.6 million in his campaign account.

Hanaway, who last appeared on the Missouri ballot a decade ago, has said she launched her campaign early in order to build up a bank account and a network of supporters.

Schweich has said it's too early to be talking about 2016 and he remains focused first on winning another term as auditor.

Brunner's approach appears in the middle of Hanaway and Schweich — he's ready to talk about a 2016 candidacy but not to commit to one.

"We've got 2014 to get through — we've got to let the dust settle on that and look at the state of the economy and the country," Brunner said. But he added: "At this point in time, two years down the road, I'm willing to step in if called."

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