It's still early in the race and Sarah Steelman, Rep. Todd Akin and John Brunner have all positioned themselves as rock solid conservative candidates. As such, it's always interesting to see what policy issues split up the pack.
Extending the payroll tax cuts, which would keep rates at 4.2 percent instead of the normal 6.1 percent, is one such policy issue.
Akin told the News-Leader that he is against extending it, which isn't too surprising considering that this is how most congressional Republicans feel, despite the party's general obsession with tax cuts.
"Usually I love any kind of tax cut," he said, "but I'm opposed to (the payroll break) because you're taking money out of Social Security."
Steelman, however, stood on the other side of the fence, saying simply, "I would support just the payroll tax cut." (The question also asked about extending unemployment benefits, which Akin and Steelman are against).
Firmly on the fence, it seemed, was Brunner, who explained (apparently speaking on both payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits):
I've gone back and forth. You're in this big hole. People are hurting, you don't want to lay any more pressure on top of people... (But) without having an understanding of what the end-game strategy is, I look at this as a knee-jerk strategy that kicks the can down the road.
This is the second significant policy divergence between Steelman and Akin, who also disagree over the merits of replacing Medicare with a private voucher system. Akin supports the idea. Steelman, while not outright against the concept, says that plan, as proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, is unrealistic. (Brunner, for his part, has discussed the possibility of giving people a choice between the voucher program and their current plan.)
There is a clear parallel between these two disagreements, one which seemingly plays to Steelman's advantage.
Both payroll tax cuts and Medicare are overwhelmingly popular. Both help middle and working class people. And both play into liberals' favorite attack on the GOP: that the party fashions policy to benefit the one percent.
Steelman, who has angled herself as the anti-establishment candidate, can paint Akin as an establishment hack, one of many who have infested the party and pulled it away from the will of the middle class or something to that effect. The public, after all, has been frustrated with partisan gridlock and what better way to undermine Akin's conservative credentials than to frame him as a rank-and-file follower from Washington who is detached from the struggles on Main Street.
All three candidates, at one point or another, have called for a debate. So positions will be clarified soon.