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Brunner calls for debates, while Steelman notes she called for them first

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 9, 2011 - The campaign for Republican U.S. Senate candidate John Brunner today announced that he is calling for "a series of debates with his primary opponents," who are competing to challenge U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

New Brunner campaign manager Jon Seaton (formerly with the presidential campaign of former hopeful Tim Pawlenty) "proposed that the campaigns meet as soon as possible to come to an agreement on a series of debates between now and the August Primary Election.

"Missourians are telling John Brunner they are fed up with Claire McCaskill who has gone along with Barack Obama in support of job-killing policies and out of control spending," Seaton wrote. "This is why our campaign is proposing a series of Republican U.S. Senate Primary debates before Tuesday, August 7, 2012, so that Republican voters can see which of us is the strongest candidate to take on Claire McCaskill and win."

A spokesman for one of Brunner's rivals, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, said she welcomed Brunner's proposal -- but noted that she had called for debates two months ago.

Steelman even jabbed Brunner on Twitter, asserting that when it comes to debates, "On Oct. 5 I called for debates. Akin agreed -- now the other opponent thinks he just came up with the idea! Go figure?. #nospine #mosen"

(The tweet appeared to have been removed by Thursday mid-evening from Steelman's Twitter page, as viewed by the Beacon and some other political bloggers. But the tweet reappeared later, and the candidate and her campaign said the tweet had never been removed.)

Spokesman Sam Steelman, son of the candidate, cited his mother's letters calling for debates that Brunner had ignored in October. Sam Steelman said that two radio stations, in Kansas City and St. Louis, have sought -- and failed -- to get responses from Brunner about their debate proposals.

Steelman, said her son, "will debate any time, any where."

Seaton apparently expected Steelman to take such a tack, by observing in his letter that Brunner's campaign hoped to avoid "a debate over debates."

"Too often, politicians try to score points in the media by 'debating debates,' Seaton wrote. "Frankly, this is a distraction and we hope we can agree that the best thing we can do as Republicans is spend our time focusing on the issues that voters truly care about. They deserve to see and hear the candidates side by side debating important issues and differences."

Seaton emphasized that Brunner, a St. Louis businessman, has been traveling the state "on a manufacturing and jobs tour where he is meeting with workers and job creators..." who share concerns about the economy and federal spending.

Steelman has been making the same points about government for months, as has the third announced Republican in the contest, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Wildwood.

Akin, who is in Washington, has yet to comment on Brunner's debate proposal.

UPDATE: Staff with McGraw Milhaven's show on radio station KTRS (550 AM) report that they have been working on a debate for months. The staff fowarded emails to the Beacon showing that they have been trying unsuccessfully to get a commitment from Brunner's campaign, although Akin and Steelman have agreed to participate in a Jan. 10 debate.

Brunner spokesman John Hancock said the campaign's point, in calling for a conference with the three campaigns, was to sift through "the dozens of requests for debates'' that all sides have received. The aim was to reach consensus on how many debates, when and where, Hancock said, as oppposed to constant jockeying and political jabs.

Brunner is seeking "a system and a schedule,'' his spokesman said.

Brunner's campaign has yet to respond to a request for comment.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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