Steelman is depicted in the third ad as "more politics as usual," and says the former state treasurer was "taking gifts from lobbyists."
A spokesman for Brunner, Todd Abrajano, said, "It's been our contention since these ads were released that Claire McCaskill is trying to pick the winner of the GOP primary." Patrick Tuohey, an aide to Steelman, seconded that, saying that in the ad about Akin, she "picks up a lot of his themes."
Akin said he didn't agree, but acknowledged others might draw that conclusion. "I think she's taking each one of us and saying, 'What's my main axis of attack' in the fall," he said.
Strategists in both parties say McCaskill might have an easier race against Akin. They note the congressman has supported earmarks in the past, while the senator has been a prominent foe of them. Polls frequently show conservatives also oppose the practice, in which lawmakers direct federal dollars to pet projects.
Apart from McCaskill's own efforts, a group run by a longtime aide to Reid is airing a commercial that is critical of Brunner, in an evident attempt to cut into his support in the primary and potentially in the fall campaign as well. It says that while he pledges to cut the government debt, he "saddled his own company with nearly $195 million in debt ... and under Brunner's leadership the company nearly shut down."
The same group, Majority PAC, recently launched a television commercial in Wisconsin criticizing two of four Republican primary contenders. It says former Gov. Tommy Thompson worked at a "D.C. lobbying firm that represents pharmaceutical and insurance firms," and attacked Eric Hovde as a "D.C. fund manager who's invested in bailed out banks involved in fraudulent loans."
The ad makes no mention of former Rep. Mark Neumann, who runs third in the preprimary polls, and whom Democrats say privately could be an easier-to-beat challenger.