Congressional briefing: National media take a closer look at Brownback
Sen. Sam Brownback made it official Monday, announcing his "exploratory committee" to raise funds for a 2008 presidential bid.
Coverage in the national press was respectful -- if skeptical of Brownback's chances.
Take this quote in the L.A. Times: "Obviously there's a vacancy on the right, and he may well fit the niche," said Stuart Rothenberg of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report. "He's a longshot - but you don't have any shot if you don't throw your hat in the ring."
The Times adds: An opponent of abortion, same-sex marriage and embryonic stem-cell research, Brownback often leads meetings of the Values Action Team, where advocacy groups meet to track social conservative legislation.
"He will add a lot to the national, not just the presidential, debate," said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, a group represented at those meetings. "He truly understands the conservative point of view. It is so frustrating for us when politicians try to pander to us. Brownback is consistent."
He voted for - and, aides say, still supports - the Iraq war.
"Culturally and geographically, Sen. Brownback is a tremendous fit for Iowa - the strongest fit of any candidate, Democrat or Republican," said David Kensinger, his former chief of staff and an informal campaign advisor. "He's clearly going to run as a Reagan Republican."
The Washington Post offers its own analysis:
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.
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.
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."
The Hill offers a ray of hope:
Brownback's appeal to social conservatives could help him become the leading alternative to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the perceived frontrunner.
"The way I see the race shaping up is that it's going to be McCain against someone who's not McCain," said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union. "McCain has a lot of people in the party who don't like him."
Social conservatives are wary of McCain for his stance on campaign finance, of Romney for his views on abortion, and of Giuliani because of his beliefs on both abortion and homosexual rights.
Many are gravitating toward Huckabee because of his experience as a minister, but Huckabee has alienated small-government fiscal conservatives because he raised taxes as governor.
Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs for the Family Research Council, one of the most influential conservative advocacy groups in Washington ... said Brownback might be able to fill a conservative leadership void among top-tier candidates. But even if he does not win the nomination, Brownback could have a major impact on the Republican primary by defining the debate on abortion and other related "life" issues, he said.
Paul Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation, who hosts a weekly meeting of influential social conservatives, acknowledged the perceived weakness of conservative credentials among the GOP's presidential frontrunners. He said Brownback or Huckabee could fill the role of a strong socially conservative candidate.
"Brownback's candidacy potentially gives us a vehicle and there may be others, like Gov. Huckabee of Arkansas, who many favor because he's a former preacher and is mesmerizing in his speaking ability."
But (David) Keene, who is also columnist for The Hill, said Brownback's strength is also his weakness. He may appeal to social conservatives but faces the challenge of having to win over a broader spectrum of Republicans.
"His reach doesn't go much beyond the social conservative base," said Keene.
More to come, you can be sure.