By Chris Cillizza
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 5, 2006
Sen. Sam Brownback joined the ever-growing group of politicians with an eye on the White House by announcing the creation of an exploratory committee for a presidential run yesterday.
The Kansas Republican made clear that he will focus on the socially conservative themes that have formed the foundation of his career in elected office. "There is a real need in our country to rebuild the family and renew our culture, and there is a need for genuine conservatism and real compassion in the national discussion," he said.
Brownback allies noted that the formation of the exploratory group, which will allow the senator to raise money and travel the country to gauge support for a presidential bid, is a pro forma move and that he will almost certainly launch a full-fledged campaign.
Brownback is the fifth Republican to signal his intention to pursue the presidency in 2008. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) have formed exploratory committees, while Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is expected to join the race in early 2007. Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and former congressman Newt Gingrich (Ga.) also have been mentioned as candidates for the GOP nomination.
In declaring his intentions so early, Brownback is hoping to stake out a position as the most viable conservative in the field. Neither McCain nor Romney is the first choice of social conservatives, and analysts said there is room for a candidate who fills that niche.
"He is the candidate of movement conservatives," said David Kensinger, a former Brownback chief of staff and a member of the senator's political inner circle.
Brownback began his political career with his 1994 election to the House. He was elected to the Senate in 1996, filling the seat vacated by Robert J. Dole (R). Throughout his tenure, Brownback has been one of the staunchest conservatives in Congress. He speaks often about the importance of religion in his life -- he converted from Protestantism to Catholicism in 2002 -- and is a critic of abortion and its impact on the culture more broadly.
Matt Keelen, a Republican lobbyist not affiliated with any '08 candidate, said Brownback's campaign will be "compassionate conservatism on steroids" with a strong focus on poverty and moral issues.
Kensinger argued that Brownback's political positioning makes him the ideal candidate for the Iowa caucuses, which tend to be dominated by social conservatives. While Brownback has kept a low public profile in Iowa, he has been working hard behind the scenes to build a volunteer-heavy grass-roots effort -- meeting with small groups in churches and living rooms -- under the belief that President Bush's reelection effort affirmed the import of ground troops.
Brownback's social-conservative credentials should get him in the door of many Iowa Republican households. What's more, having been raised on a farm outside of Parker, Kan., Brownback is as well versed as any candidate in the field on the agriculture issues so important to Iowa and enjoys home-state proximity, his supporters say.
Money is a major hurdle for Brownback, who has never raised or spent more than $2.5 million on a race. At the end of September, he had $600,000 in his Senate campaign account.
Kensinger acknowledged that Brownback's fundraising ability remains an open question but added: "If you can win Iowa, you are going to have all the money you need overnight."