A few months back, I wrote a piece on Senator Sam Brownback, declaring him the conservative insurgent of the 2008 GOP field. I believed then, and still believe today, that he has the potential to be the Howard Dean of the 2008 presidential race.

He is consistently conservative, and unlike his better known opponents, shows little evidence of wavering or flip-flopping on those issues. He is staunchly opposed to embryonic stem cell research, abortion and same-sex marriage. An avid anti-tax crusader, Brownback once proposed implementing a flat tax on the District of Columbia as an experiment. A Methodist-turned-Catholic, the Kansan has tried to offer a broad evangelical platform that appeals to both the Christian Right, as well as the Christian Left. He has worked across the aisle with Senator Barack Obama, and with the late Paul Wellstone to fight human trafficking, disease and poverty in Africa. He was an early and vocal critic of his own government’s inaction on the genocide in Darfur, and has traveled to places such as Rwanda and Sudan numerous times over the past few years.

His personal bio seems to fit the bill, too. Brownback goes to church twice every Sunday, and once apologized to Hillary Clinton for having hated her. The senator has five children, two of which were adopted from impoverished countries, and has surprisingly been married just once–a seeming novelty amongst Republicans these days. He also, to my knowledge, has never dressed up like a woman. Sam arguably represents the Republican dream candidate, however his attempts to woo the GOP base have thus far been less than dreamy. With poll numbers in the single digits, and a Q1 report of just $800,000 in the bank, something seems to be the matter in Kansas. In an interview with McClatchy Newspapers, Brownback argued that his time is still to come, and that the current rankings will soon see a serious shakeup:

“There are a lot of people who are very demoralized right now,” he said, speaking of his fellow Republicans. “I think they’re open to be rallied. . . . I’m the tortoise in the race. I don’t like how that race starts. I love how that race finishes.”

Trailing not only in early polls but also in fundraising – he ended the first quarter on March 31 with only $800,000 in his campaign account – Brownback said his campaign will benefit from the retail politics of the first three small states scheduled to vote next January.

As voters in those states tune in, he said, they’ll tune out today’s front-runner, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, because he’s liberal on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, and that’ll shake up the race.

“Things will shift. And I think they will shift pretty radically,” Brownback said.

Brownback believes he can get his name out in Iowa, be competitive in New Hampshire and predicts that he will win South Carolina. This is a risky proposition on his part, one that isn’t supported much by polling data. However Sam’s problem isn’t a mutually exclusive one. Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul and Tommy Thompson are all in the same boat–right values, right party and no cash. It’s arguably a sign of sophistication on the part of the GOP base, having been burned last year in the 2006 elections. Conservative voters want to win, and have thus embraced liberal Republicans like Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney.

But Brownback is counting on a sea change that may never occur. With a bulk of primaries happening on February 5, underdog candidates like him will be left with little time to wow potential supporters. And while Brownback suffers from the same problems as some of his conservative peers in the race, he also seems to suffer from strategy issues that might be specific to his campaign. For example, being a fellow midwesterner, a staunch conservative and a born-and-raised farmer, Brownback seems like a logical fit for Iowa Caucus voters. With a frontloaded primary season in store, why would the Kansas senator wait until South Carolina to make his mark? A passive, “tortoise” strategy such as that will only have Brownback heading back to Parker, KS sooner than he would like.


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