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Posted at 11:13 AM ET, 12/ 1/2010

Sarah Steelman to run for Senate

By Aaron Blake

Updated at 12:13 p.m.

Former Missouri state Treasurer Sarah Steelman has entered the 2012 race against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, becoming the first major GOP candidate in the race and paving the way for a potential establishment-versus-tea party battle with former Sen. Jim Talent.

Steelman has launched a website for her bid, on which she says she is a candidate. She also tweeted this morning that she is running. She could not immediately be reached by The Fix.

"I'm running for US Senate because I believe in the American dream which is more freedom NOT more government," Steelman tweeted.

Steelman's entry gives Republicans a big-name candidate with tea party bona fides to run against McCaskill. But it could also lead to the kind of difficult primary that plagued the GOP's Senate candidates in this year's election -- especially if Talent decides to run, as many expect him to.

Talent said recently that he is also seriously considering a campaign and that he will decide whether to run by early next year.

Talent appears likely to run, though it's not a done deal yet. His fundraiser, Steve Gordon, said Wednesday that a decision is imminent.

"Jim is hearing from a great number of folks throughout Missouri who are urging him to run," Gordon said. "He's grateful and will make a decision in the very near future."

Steelman ran as the insurgent candidate in a 2008 governor primary against former Rep. Kenny Hulshof, nearly pulling an upset. Then, in 2010, she weighed a Senate campaign that would have pitted her against Rep. Roy Blunt in the primary. Blunt went on to win the seat, and Steelman supported his campaign.

Wary of creating another tea party fiasco, the National Republican Senatorial Committee reached out to Steelman recently - making clear that they aren't necessarily favoring Talent in a potential primary.

Steelman is thought to be formidable, both because of her tea party support and her gender, which could prevent the GOP from ceding female voters to McCaskill.

Having entered the race so early, though, the onus will be on her to turn in a strong first month of fundraising when she files her year-end report.

"If she does that, it's game on. If she doesn't, she could flame out," said a Missouri GOP consultant who is currently neutral.

Steelman does have some personal money to use. She self-funded $750,000 for her governor campaign in 2008, which could help even if she doesn't put up a strong number in her year-end report.

Steelman served six years in the state Senate before winning a race for state treasurer in 2004. She served one term before launching a governor campaign. Since then, she has served as a professor at Missouri State University and a radio talk show host.

She is married to a former member of the state House of Representatives and 1992 candidate for attorney general, David Steelman, and he remains actively involved in her political pursuits.

McCaskill is seen as one of the most vulnerable Democrats in 2012. Her state has turned strongly against President Obama -- more than other states that are considered swing states.

If Talent doesn't run, Steelman could face primary opposition from any number of other more establishment candidates. Attention may turn to former Gov. Matt Blunt, former Ambassador to Luxembourg Ann Wagner (who is currently a candidate for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee) or Reps. Jo Ann Emerson and Todd Akin.

By Aaron Blake  | December 1, 2010; 11:13 AM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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