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No money, no problem? The Sarah Steelman story

at 03:05 PM ET, 03/09/2012

Rumors that Tom Schweich will run against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) is good news for one other Missouri Republican: former state treasurer Sarah Steelman.

If Schweich gets in the race, Steelman would be the sole female candidate facing three men. She would be the only candidate from outside St. Louis.

Neither Rep. Todd Akin nor self-funding businessman John Brunner have caught fire (hence the calls for Schweich to run.) Schweich himself, while highly regarded by some local heavyweights, is known for his hair-trigger temper and thin skin. (He once held a press conference to attack the St. Louis Post-Dispatch over a critical editorial).

While most Republican strategists agree that the dynamics help Steelman, some argue that her fundraising is so weak that she can’t take advantage of it. At least, not yet.

Steelman supporters argue that she needs far less money than the other Republicans, because she has a base of grass-roots supporters.

She came within four points of winning the gubernatorial primary in 2008 as an insurgent candidate, with the entire GOP establishment against her. (That race is a big part of why she is disliked by the donating class.)

And she just got the support of state House Speaker Steve Tilley, who has good relations with donors.

But Steelman’s numbers are dismal any way you cut it. She raised just $83,000 in the fourth quarter of 2012.

“It helps her more than anyone” if Schweich gets in, said one Missouri Republican strategist, but “in order for it to work she’s got to raise a million and give herself a million.” (Steelman’s husband is a wealthy lawyer who could help her finance her campaign.)

Another suggested that she could win if Sen. Roy Blunt (R), who she supported in 2010, gave her a boost with Republican insiders.

“She has alienated an awful lot of people in St. Louis, where the money is,” said another Missouri Republican. “If I’m Sara, I say to Senator Blunt, I need help to get out the primary vote — can your organization give us a hand and pull us over the line?”

Others are skeptical that she has an advantage at all.

“Conventional wisdom is that it seals the deal for Steelman, but that’s based purely on geography,” said a national Republican strategist who has done work in the state. “If you go in banking on that, chances are you’re going to lose.”

What’s amazing is that despite months of truly dismal fundraising, Steelman is still a serious contender. Many Republicans say — some with a sense of shock — that she’s the current front-runner. In a field with stronger contenders it would never happen.

Which is why Democrats are still feeling pretty good, despite McCaskill’s bad poll numbers.

 
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