When Sarah Steelman introduces herself to voters, she makes it clear she doesn't plan to be a go-along, get-along U.S. senator.
"My name is Sarah Steelman, I'm from Rolla, Mo., and I'm running for the United States Senate because the status quo has got to go," she told Clay County Republicans in Excelsior Springs.
She has a history of going against the grain.
Less than a month after taking office as a state senator in Jefferson City, she called for the elimination of state pensions for lawmakers -- an idea that infuriated many colleagues.
The bill didn't get far, but Steelman now is talking about doing the same thing in Congress.
"It is a service. It is not a career," she said about serving on Capitol Hill.
Four years ago, she lost a narrow and bitter race for the GOP nomination for governor to Kenny Hulshof and she never offered him a full-fledged endorsement that is often standard party etiquette after tough primaries.
Some said that contributed to Hulshof's lackluster showing against Democrat Jay Nixon.
As state treasurer from 2005 to 2009, she pushed an initiative that called for no investment in companies that do business in countries that sponsor terrorism, even though some said it was difficult to know if a company was hurting or helping U.S. interests.
But Steelman won.
When fellow Republican Matt Blunt was governor, she accused his administration of arranging a secret payoff to a victim of sexual harassment.
"I wanted a good relationship with the governor's office," Steelman once said. "But things happened that I interpreted as doing the right thing and the governor interpreted as me not being a team player."
Over the years, she picked up a reputation as unpredictable and sometimes inconsistent.
She talks on the stump about never voting for a tax increase, but in 2002 she voted to extend a gasoline tax and impose a tax on pharmacies.
Asked about that, Steelman declined to respond directly, saying only: "Everybody knows that I'm a fiscal conservative" and complaining that opponents were "going to nitpick me to death."
Still, it's her insistence that she's something of a rebel within her own party that sets her apart in the GOP primary field. It's that attribute, she contends, that will help her make the tough calls to balance the nation's budget without a tax increase in five to seven years and move to a flat tax.
"It is a good ol' boys club," Steelman said of the Senate. "I've never been part of the good ol' boys club and will never be part of it. That's part of the problem out there."
That independent streak came naturally, she confided. Growing up in Jefferson City, she was a tomboy struggling to compete against two older brothers.
"I got beat up on a little bit," she recalled. "I've never been afraid to fight for things I thought were right."
She rappelled off cliffs and loved backpacking at a time when many girls weren't interested, Steelman said.
She was a big Ronald Reagan backer, working for him when she was 18 years old in 1976, when Reagan made his insurgent bid against President Gerald Ford, and again in 1980, when Reagan was swept into the White House.
Her mother was a high school social studies teacher, and her father was a lawyer and a staunch Goldwater-Reagan conservative who opened a downtown Jefferson City bookstore called The Freedom Center that featured the works of William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman. He stressed the importance of participation in the political process.
"We'd have great discussions about conservative ideas and politics and all the different issues around our kitchen table with my brothers and friends," Steelman said.
She earned a bachelor's degree in history and a masters in economics, both from the University of Missouri in Columbia, and has taught at Missouri State University in Springfield.
Her husband is David Steelman, a former GOP state representative from Rolla, who narrowly lost the 1992 race for Missouri attorney general to Nixon.
In 1998, Steelman entered politics herself, easily defeating a four-term senator.
She argued that her opponent had lost touch with the district and had become part of the problem in the state Capitol.
In the Senate, she was seen as a good-government advocate who pushed for greater transparency and stronger ethics laws while opposing tax subsidies that she labeled corporate welfare.
As treasurer, however, she angered farmers in the General Assembly when she adopted a conflict-of-interest policy that prevented lawmakers from personally benefiting from tax credits approved for ethanol plants.
These days, she is a big fan of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who has proposed dramatic spending cuts, including sharp cuts to Medicare.
"He's put things on the table that other people were not willing to talk about," Steelman said. "He changed the conversation. Those are the people we need more of."