TOPEKA, Kansas (Reuters) - Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, a favorite of religious and social conservatives, formally announced his bid for the White House on Saturday, pledging to keep God in the government.
Brownback, a two-term Senate veteran and staunch opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage, told a cheering crowd of about 800 supporters that he would seek the Republican nomination for the presidency for 2008 because he wanted to renew “the family and the culture.”
Brownback set out a partial list of goals that include energy independence, an alternative flat tax, an improved health care system, protecting marriage and opposing abortion.
“We will achieve these goals, not through government action, but by tapping into our innate goodness as a society and working together,” said Brownback. “A goodness from God that demands our vigilant action.”
Brownback’s bid is seen as a long shot, overshadowed by Republican contenders Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. His announcement of a White House run also came the same day as New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton’s, which dominated media attention.
But Brownback’s close ties to powerful religious conservatives gives him a solid base on which to build support, some political analysts say.
Washburn University political science professor Bob Beatty said Brownback’s reputation as a “no-quibbling conservative” makes him a champion for Christian activists who exert a strong influence in Republican nominating primaries and were courted heavily by President George W. Bush in his 2004 re-election.
Brownback could show surprising strength in the primaries if he can reach more moderate voters on issues like poverty and health care, and distance himself from Bush, whose popularity has plummeted as the Iraq war continues, Beatty said.
Indeed, Brownback is laying the foundation for a broadened platform, working to draw attention to problems in Africa, including the violence in Sudan’s Darfur region, human sex trafficking and efforts to fight AIDS and malaria.
He opposes Bush’s plan to send 21,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq, while focusing on domestic health care and tax reform issues, according to his campaign.
In Kansas, the 50-year-old Brownback, who is from the tiny farming town of Parker and served as the state’s agriculture secretary, garners praise even from some Democrats for his work on international issues.
Nationally, conservatives have embraced the practicing Roman Catholic, who was raised as an evangelical Protestant, as a favorite son.
“On a host of issues ... Sam Brownback has been an obvious champion,” said Richard Cizik, National Association of Evangelicals vice president for governmental affairs. “He’s won a lot of friends in our community.”
But the father of five angers many with his unshakable stances against abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and gay marriage and civil unions that he says are rooted in his deep faith in God and biblical teachings.
“Senator Brownback tops the list of who’s who among politicians determined to interfere in Americans’ personal, private medical decisions, including a woman’s right to choose,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “The far right depends on Brownback to lead the charge.”