Among the signs bobbing above the assembled throng at last week’s March for Life rally in Washington, D.C., were two worth noting for anyone with an eye on the next presidential race.
One read, “Ohioans for Brownback”; the other, “Values Voters for Brownback ’08.”
That’s Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback, hardly a politician with a high profile nationally, but a hero in social conservative circles.
Brownback is also one of a handful of Republican Senators privately mulling a potential presidential bid in three years time, a candidacy that could significantly complicate the hopes of better-known aspirants such as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.), Sen. George Allen (Va.) and Senate GOP Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.)
While the three aforementioned Senators are liked and respected by the party’s ideological right, none has carried the flag for cultural conservatives as unapologetically as the Kansas Senator has during his decade in Congress.
And, if past history is any guide, those conservative voters will have the loudest voice in the early stages of the presidential primary process — particularly the Iowa caucuses.
“The caucuses take sacrifice and time on a cold winter night,” said conservative Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). “It draws the people who really care about the issues.”
Few would question Brownback’s private and public dedication to conservative principles and connections to cultural conservatives.
King recently described sitting behind Brownback on a flight and watching the Senator take out a “dog-eared, brown leather Bible” and read from it for 30 minutes before turning to briefing papers “to work on his Senatorial duties.”
Brownback leads a meeting every Tuesday of the Values Action Team, a collection of leaders within the cultural conservative movement.
Brownback is also a regular speaker at national conventions for these groups, as was the case in late September 2004 when he addressed the Christian Coalition’s gala dinner in Washington.
Legislatively, Brownback has kept his focus squarely on issues near and dear to conservatives, most notably abortion.
Last week he introduced the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, which is aimed at forcing doctors to provide information to pregnant women about the pain felt by unborn children before they perform abortions.
A Kansas politico with ties to Brownback likened the distinction between the Senator and his other conservative colleagues to “the difference between a chicken and a pig at a ham and eggs breakfast.
“The chicken is involved but the pig is committed,” said the source.
But Brownback is decidedly noncommittal about his future prospects.
“I don’t want to get sidetracked on something four years from now when there are so many things to concentrate on now,” he said in an interview in the Capitol last week. “The next nine months is prime [legislative] real estate.”
Brownback did acknowledge, however, that “people talk to me about it” and did not rule out the possibility of a presidential run.
Rep. Jim Ryun (R-Kan.), who replaced Brownback in the House and also shares his ideology, said that he has counseled the Senator “to fulfill his dreams and visions.”
Without question, there would be major hurdles for Brownback to overcome if he hopes to seriously compete for the nomination, not the least of which is that he would be viewed by many establishment Republicans as a “fringe” candidate.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.