Steelman's "Kitchen Table Tour" focused on items she has found are unpopular with Republican state party leaders -- an end to the requirement that all gasoline sold in Missouri be blended with 10 percent ethanol is one example -- but which she said are important to voters.
In stops at Hoeckele's Bakery in Perryville, Mo., and the home of Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson, Steelman told voters she will crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, promote a comprehensive review of the state's tax system and trade the MAP test for the ACT as a measure of progress by high school students.
Steelman trails U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Columbia, in the most recent published poll, but with about one-third of GOP voters undecided, the race is a toss-up. Two lesser known candidates, Scott Long of Mountain View, Mo., and Jen Sievers of Jackson, are trailing Steelman and Hulshof in most areas of the state.
The tour is named after the "great political discussions" in Steelman's family when she was growing up, she told the gathering of about 25 people at Lipke's home in Jackson.
"The centerpiece of my campaign has been to tell people that every voter has a seat at the kitchen table of state government," Steelman said. "Too often that voice gets lost. Government works best when we hear the voice of the people."
Steelman has been emphasizing her opposition to the mandatory use of ethanol in recent weeks. The mandate, which took effect Jan. 1, is costing consumers as corn is diverted from human and animal food producers to making fuel, she said. The resulting blend also results in lower fuel mileage, she noted.
And the increased price of grain is squeezing livestock producers, threatening the livelihood of many southern Missouri farm families, she said.
"When you interfere with the free market, it usually doesn't work," Steelman said.
The GOP primary race was sparked by incumbent Gov. Matt Blunt's decision to step aside in January. Hulshof and Steelman were urged to settle on a single candidate, but neither was willing to step aside. Since then, many state GOP leaders, including Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, U.S. Sen. Kit Bond and Blunt's father, U.S. House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Springfield, have endorsed Hulshof. Gov. Matt Blunt has remained officially neutral.
The winner is expected to face Attorney General Jay Nixon in the November campaign.
In campaign finance reports released Monday, Steelman reported raising $330,000 in the first three weeks of July, a sum that included $200,000 from her personal funds. Hulshof reported raising $241,000. Steelman had $503,000 for the final push, Hulshof had $426,000.
Nixon. meanwhile, reported raising $92,000 in the period, but he has $2.9 million in the bank and no need to spend the money in the primary.
There are GOP committees with money, such as the Republican State Committee, which had about $380,000 and the House Republican Campaign Committee, which had $1.2 million in the bank. On Aug. 28, the limit on contributions to Missouri political candidates will be lifted, but House Majority Leader and chairman of the committee Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, said the primary winner should not expect to tap into the House Republican fund.
"We raised it from people who understood it would go to House candidates," Tilley said.
Tilley said the primary winner will be "supported 100 percent" by the state and national party organizations in an effort to counter Nixon's cash advantage. "Whoever wins the primary, the state party and the national party have to be heavily engaged to be competitive," he said.
Steelman has irritated party leaders and brought charges of unfair negative campaigning from the Hulshof camp for ads highlighting his votes for Congressional earmarked spending and for the ethanol stand.
Steelman has also taken on House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, by calling for a ban on elected officials moonlighting as political consultants. She has been joined in that proposal by Hulshof and Kinder.
In an interview, she said her stands show her independence from party doctrine that should appeal to independent voters. She also said her campaign is "driving the debate" through the calls for ethics reform and a tax system overhaul.
Lipke said he's backing Steelman because she has shown her strengths in the legislature as a state senator and as treasurer.
"There is a sincerity in what she does, and anybody who talks to her can see that," Lipke said.
The primary contest has not hurt the party, Lipke said. He expects the party leaders to rally around the primary winner and does not see that the sharp differences being debated in the campaign will lead to bitterness, he said.
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