St. Louis businessman John Brunner decided to run for the U.S. Senate after taking a long look at his potential opponents.
"I felt that there was such a huge gap between what we needed to do and what they were offering -- more of the same," he told supporters at a rally in North Kansas City.
Actually, the gap between Brunner (rhymes with "sooner") and major GOP opponents Sarah Steelman and Todd Akin is, on the issues, rather small. All three promote familiar Republican positions: less regulation, smaller deficits, lower taxes, a strong defense.
On his website, Brunner attacks "reckless spending and debt" and proposes a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget. He wants to ban earmarks and reform the tax code. He is against abortion. He promises to leave office after two terms.
In other ways, however, the gap between Brunner and his opponents is wide.
Unlike his opponents, Brunner has never served a day in public office. Normally, that might be considered a liability, he said, but this year being seen as a novice is a plus.
"This is what keeps Congress moving in the right direction, when you bring people from the real world," he said.
Brunner's lack of elected service has frustrated his opponents. While he can -- and does -- criticize their voting decisions, he provides no similar target for them.
"I don't have a voting record," he acknowledged. "So it's no different than if you're going to employ me for a job at your company. What has this guy done? What's his background?"
Brunner's background includes a bachelor's degree in management from Harding University in Searcy, Ark., and an MBA from Washington University in St. Louis. He served four years in the Marine Corps.
But it's his business experience at Vi-Jon, a personal care products company founded by his grandparents, that has become the primary focus of his campaign and a target of criticism for his opponents.
Brunner joined the firm in 1978 and became its chief executive officer in 1992. His campaign says employment at Vi-Jon grew from 80 to 1,400, proof that he knows how to create jobs.
"How many companies have been around for 100 years?" Brunner asked. "How many created jobs for over 100 years?"
In 2006, he helped engineer a private equity buyout of Vi-Jon. In 2009, he stepped down from his leadership post.
The private equity firm that bought Vi-Jon borrowed money to do it, a decision Brunner supported. In April of this year -- after Brunner had left the firm -- Moody's downgraded Vi-Jon's credit rating, citing concerns about the company's income and debt load.
Nevertheless, in an early attack ad, the Brunner campaign criticized Steelman for supporting borrowing for Missouri's roads, and Akin for supporting increases in the federal debt ceiling.
But Brunner insisted his company's private debt is different from public debt.
"Debt is legitimate when you have the accountability and the risk," he said. "Politicians don't have risk when they put that debt on the books."
He grows angry at his opponents' criticism of Vi-Jon's corporate strategies.
"It's pretty interesting to come back and point at the ups and downs of any business," he said. "What have you done? Have you been in there, with all the issues? That company has continued to employ people."
But in the policy sphere Brunner also hedges on the national debt question. After criticizing Akin for increasing the federal debt ceiling, the businessman wouldn't rule out a similar vote if he is elected this fall.
Brunner's career with Vi-Jon has left him and wife Jan very wealthy. His personal financial disclosure statement shows assets worth between $26 million and $108 million, including an airplane.
In February, his campaign told The Associated Press that Brunner owns three homes, including one in the Cayman Islands.
Some of the Brunners' fortune is invested in gold, the disclosure statement shows. John Brunner owns more than $3.5 million in stock in gold and silver companies and mining firms, while Jan Brunner's trust holds more than $1 million in gold. John Brunner received a salary of $372,000 from Vi-Jon's holding company between January 2011 and the end of January 2012.
Brunner's personal wealth has created another gap between his candidacy and that of his GOP opponents: campaign spending.
Through the end of March, Federal Election Commission records show, Brunner raised more than $2.6 million, far outpacing Akin's $1.9 million and Steelman's $1.1 million.
But virtually all of Brunner's fundraising -- $2.2 million -- has come from his own pockets.
Second-quarter spending figures are expected to show Brunner's spending has topped $3 million, most of it for TV ads.
Whether Brunner's wealth and campaign spending will be major issues for GOP primary voters will become more clear in August.
"He's not a politician," said supporter Jacque Cox after his North Kansas City speech. "He's someone who knows what we experience: raising families, working. He wants to go to D.C. to change the things that really need to be changed."