Kansas senator seeks to be GOP conservatives' choice

Sunday, January 21, 2007
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., announces intention to run for the U.S. presidency Saturday, Jan. 20, 2007, in Topeka, Kan., proclaiming himself "a conservative and proud of being one." Brownback called for a renewal of the nation's cultural values and a focus on rebuilding families. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

TOPEKA, Kan. -- Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback figures he has an edge with Republican voters that other presidential rivals don't -- unquestioned conservative credentials.

The two-term lawmaker, who announced his White House bid Saturday, faces better-known GOP hopefuls -- Sen. John McCain, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani -- who have the fund-raising skills and experienced campaign staff for the long haul.

Brownback, 50, offers himself as a "full-scale Ronald Reagan conservative." He is a fierce foe of abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and gay marriage, and plans to participate in the anti-abortion march Monday in Washington marking the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that established a nationwide right to abortion.

"McCain, I think, would be considered by most the front-runner," Brownback acknowledged in an interview this week. "Where I stand on the issues much more reflects the majority of the Republican Party voters."

In recent weeks, conservatives have expressed reservations about McCain and Romney, wondering whether their past statements on rights for homosexuals reflect a more moderate view. Giuliani has been a longtime supporter of abortion rights, gay rights and gun control.

"Brownback, he's a known commodity," said Carrie Gordon Earll, a senior director at the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Focus on the Family. "Some of the other people who've thrown their hat in the ring, there's debate. Have they always been pro-life? Nobody questions Sam Brownback."

Brownback's causes have included restoring a "family hour" to television, an amendment to the Constitution banning same-sex marriage and legislation to prohibit human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research.

While he's on solid footing on social issues, Brownback has broken with some Republicans on the Iraq war and immigration.

He opposes President Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq, saying, "Iraq requires a political rather than a military solution." Brownback also favors an eventual path to citizenship for some of the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants.

Brownback was one of the first Republicans to announce an exploratory committee in early December. His candidacy remains a long shot in what has become a crowded GOP field of almost 10 potential candidates.

While conservatives have a major say in the party's nominee, electability also is a factor. GOP pollster Ed Goeas said that while some conservatives have concerns about McCain, they also want a candidate who can beat the Democrat they dislike most.

"All you have to say to conservatives is, 'Hillary Clinton,' and all of a sudden the headache disappears very quickly," Goeas said.

Brownback was raised on a farm near tiny Parker, Kan. -- population 281 today -- where his parents still live.

He was elected to the House in 1994, part of the Republican revolution that gave the GOP control of both the House and Senate for the first time in 40 years.

Two years later, Brownback was elected to the Senate, winning the seat Bob Dole vacated to run for the presidency. Brownback, who promised to serve no more than two terms, has said he will not seek re-election in 2010.

Republican pollster Whit Ayres said Brownback faces two major challenges in his bid.

"The first is raising the money necessary to be competitive," Ayres said. "The second is how to expand his base of support beyond the social conservative wing of the party."


On the Net:

Brownback's campaign: http://www.brownback.com/

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