Sam Brownback, Republican senator from Kansas and presidential candidate, knows that his party's nominee – whoever that is – could face an uphill battle when America votes for its next president in 2008. But he says there's an answer to that challenge: the kind of "big ideas" people have come to expect from the GOP.
"I think we need some new ones," Mr. Brownback told reporters at a Monitor breakfast Wednesday. Then he touted his "pro-life, whole life" message.
"I believe that all life is sacred and is unique and is a beautiful child of a loving God, period," he says. "That applies to the child in the womb and the child in Darfur, and somebody in prison and somebody in poverty. I think we've got to expand our set of plays."
Brownback says last week's US Supreme Court ruling that upheld a law banning so-called partial birth abortions will show antiabortion forces that they can win in court. The victory shows that "if we work hard at it, if we're able to win the Senate and the presidency, we can see some change taking place in this country," he says. "We're one Supreme Court justice away from overturning Roe – probably," he adds, referring to the court's abortion precedent, Roe v. Wade.
Is he worried that last week's abortion ruling will energize the forces that support abortion rights? "I'm more concerned about energy on my side than I am on that side," he says. "And I think it says to our people, we can win these things."
Since announcing his presidential bid in January, Brownback has struggled to gain traction. National polls among Republicans show him with 1 or 2 percent support for the GOP nomination; in the earliest nominating states, Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, he does not fare any better. "I'm the tortoise in the race," he says. His fundraising totals for the first quarter of 2007 also showed him far behind in the pack, but, he says, "I can live off the land more than most candidates can, given that I'm a grass-roots candidate."
Other signature issues for the senator include immigration, energy, and Iraq. On the last, he is teaming up with Democratic senator and presidential candidate Joseph Biden to promote a three-state, one-country political solution for Iraq. On energy, the farm-state senator favors more use of alternative fuels and electricity in cars. On immigration, he voted for the border fence and supports offering illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, with preconditions.
But it may be his "whole life" message that most sets him apart and at times puts him at odds with the mainstream of his party. A convert to Catholicism in 2002, he now largely opposes the death penalty – "except in cases where we cannot protect society from the perpetrator," such as Osama bin Laden.
But Brownback says he will not promote the curtailing of the death penalty as a campaign issue.
"I think it is tough for a state to teach a culture of life and still use this tool of death, and that's where I have difficulty with it. But I'm not going to be pushing it on an aggressive basis," he says. "I will be pushing issues like what we can do on reducing prison recidivism rates, which I've worked on a lot. I am going to be pushing what we can to do to help those in poverty in this country and poverty around the world, particularly what we can do to reduce malaria, what we can do to get more clean water supplies to people in third-world countries."
Some Republican voters have expressed dissatisfaction with the best-known and best-funded GOP presidential candidates – but that has not translated into greater support for non-front-runners like Brownback. He says it's too early in the cycle to judge public reaction to the field.
"A lot of people haven't focused on it," he says. "It's April of the year before. So this will take time, but it will happen over a period of time."