Potential Blunt challenger sharpens tone

Former Missouri state Treasurer Sarah Steelman (R) told a Missouri interviewer she sees Rep. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate harassment bill runs into opposition from House Senate approves new sexual harassment policy for Congress Senators introduce bill to overhaul sexual harassment policy MORE (R) as a Washington insider, and that she is still thinking about challenging him in the race for an open Senate seat next year.

Steelman is listening to advisers and constituents in advance of making a formal decision, though she has set up an exploratory committee.

"I want to focus on what is wrong in Washington, and the fact that we need new leadership and fresh faces. If I can offer some of that new leadership, I would consider" running for Senate, Steelman told the SEMO Times in an interview.

Asked for a word that describes Blunt, the veteran congressman and former Republican whip, Steelman said simply: "Washington."

Republicans in Washington have largely embraced Blunt as the establishment's choice to take over for Sen. Kit Bond (R) when he retires next year. But Steelman, who some have compared to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) as similarly attractive to a populist conservative base, could give Blunt a difficult primary.

In 2008, Steelman came close to upsetting then-Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R) in the gubernatorial primary, casting herself as an outside reformer.

"I think we need to take stock of where we are and look at how we got here," Steelman said of the state of the GOP. "I think we need to be more principally conservative, and reflect on just how we lost the House and Senate. The people do not trust us to be conservatives because we were anything but conservative when we were in the majority."

And she still embraces the Palin comparisons. "I think it’s a great compliment. She is a reformer and very well-grounded. We both strive to put people first," Steelman said of Palin.