Courting Mr. Sam (Brownback)

Posted November 2, 2007 at 6:11pm

Everyone’s heard the story about the now-infamous meeting late last month between presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who recently threw in the towel on his White House run. But what you haven’t heard is the K Street side of the story.

You see, while Brownback huddled with Giuliani — who is seeking Brownback’s endorsement and the conservative bona fides that come with it — DC Navigators lobbyist Cesar Conda, who is on the team of GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, e-mailed a high-level Brownback aide to schedule a tête-à-tête with the Senator and Romney.

“Halfway through the Giuliani meeting, I got an e-mail from Cesar Conda,” said this Brownback aide, who would not be quoted by name. “I responded that we’d be happy to set something up.”

Ari Storch, a lobbyist with Artemis Strategies who also is an informal adviser to Brownback, said that after the Brownback aide received the invitation from Conda, Storch got in touch with his pals in the Romney campaign to verify that they wanted a meeting. All looked rosy for Brownback and Romney to get together.

The next day, however, a Romney campaign surrogate, James Bopp, who has been helping Romney with anti-abortion advocates, blasted Brownback publicly for even chatting with Giuliani, who supports abortion rights.

Bopp said that Brownback, who is opposed to abortion rights, was compromising the life issue for his own personal political gain.

“Bopp’s comments were just utterly outrageous,” the Brownback aide said.

So outrageous, in fact, that they undermined Conda’s efforts to get Romney and Brownback together.

The Romney campaign did not return two calls seeking comment on the matter, and Conda declined comment.

The Brownback aide said his boss’s camp told the Romney campaign it would have to distance itself from Bopp’s comments. “After that, everything really fell apart,” the aide said.

Conda, though, is not getting the blame. “Cesar Conda is a great guy,” the Brownback aide said. “He was negotiating in good faith all along. I think the Romney campaign used him to set up a meeting, then set up a parallel operation to take a bat to Brownback’s head.”

Meanwhile, Storch said the possibility of a Brownback-Romney meeting still exists. “The Senator is obviously looking at all the folks in the field,” Storch said. “He wants to figure out how best to move his agenda forward, the family values agenda that he holds dearly to his heart.”

Storch said he has stayed in touch with the Romney folks, “hoping we could still go forward with a meeting. I would think that we’re a little disappointed that it took the turn it did with the campaign officials asking for a meeting and then their grass-roots organizations attacking the Senator at the same exact time. If they’re interested in truly moving forward, we’d hope they’d do what’s necessary to separate themselves from the hostile attacks against the Senator.”

Just another slice of presidential politics from K Street.