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November 21, 2006
Brownback The Great Conservative Hope?

Calling himself a "full scale Ronald Reagan conservative," Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas tossed his hat into the ring for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. Brownback, who has a consistent record of conservative positions, hopes to emerge as the strongest conservative in the race against a field that appears to tilt significantly towards Rockefeller Republicanism:

Sen. Sam Brownback, who is considering a White House bid in 2008, said Monday the Republican field has room for a "full-scale Ronald Reagan conservative" and pledged to make a final decision next month.

The Kansas senator said he was not discouraged from running by the Democrats' strong gains in this month's midterm elections, including majority control of the House and Senate.

"It does not make it less likely," he said in an interview. "I really believe that the basic conservative ideas and ideals were not repudiated. Our execution was." ...

Brownback, who was elected in 1996, is a forceful foe of abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. He also has taken a prominent role in the fight against genocide in Sudan's Darfur region.

Brownback has made several trips to Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan and other states that hold early presidential nominating contests. While national polls show McCain and Giuliani running strong, similar polls have shown Brownback in the low single digits.

An undercurrent of support has existed for Brownback since earlier this year, when it became plain that conservatives had grown disaffected with the GOP. He faces little competition on the right of the GOP field. His colleague John McCain has tried to convince Republicans to consider him for the conservative choice, but too many of them mistrust him over the free-speech suppression of the BCRA and his leadership in the Gang of 14 in 2005. Newt Gingrich has also attracted quite a bit of interest, but his negatives bode ill for a general election, and it's possible that Newt won't excite even the primary voters. Mitt Romney also has set some moderate expectations, but the process of governing a liberal state like Massachussetts will create some suspicion about Romney's consistent support of conservative values.

However, Brownback has the same problem as any Senator or Congressman -- a lack of executive experience. Legislators reach compromises, and those come back to haunt candidates on the presidential trail. One only recall John Kerry's clumsy explanation that he supported the $87 billion emergency war appropriation before he opposed it during the 2004 campaign to see how such consensus-building efforts can damage one's prospects for the Oval Office.

On the other hand, Brownback doesn't appear to have too many of these waffling points on the resume. On abortion, for instance, Brownback gets a perfect 100 from the National Right to Life Committee and a perfect 0 from NARAL. Likewise on the 2nd Amendment, he gets high praise from firearms groups and the worst ratings possible from gun-control advocates. He gets high marks from budget and tax hawks, but on immigration he appears to be a little bit of a squish. He supported the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform plan, a vote that will find him at odds with the conservative base he claims to represent.

It may not make much difference. Most of the oxygen is already getting sucked up by McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Newt Gingrich. Brownback may have some name recognition among the politicos and the blogs, but he barely registers among rank-and-file voters. He and Duncan Hunter have the same problem -- no one will vote for a candidate unknown to them. Brownback would have to suddenly become a household name, and thus far his career has proven him less than dynamic.

Brownback may still surprise. Unless he does something spectacular soon, he simply won't knock Giuliani, McCain, Romney, or Gingrich off the front pages, though. Without that kind of coverage, and seemingly unable to generate that much attention throughout most of his career, Brownback doesn't look promising as the Great Conservative Hope.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 21, 2006 1:22 AM

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