WASHINGTON—Sen. Sam Brownback just spent the last nine days in eight different states. He went to Iowa twice.
That's his blueprint for the next 11 months as the Kansas senator seeks the Republican Party's nomination for president—a blur of hotel ballrooms and potluck dinners, big speeches and small conversations.
The field is wide—nearly a dozen Republicans could enter the race—but fluid. A few are household names and their poll numbers show it. Brownback, beyond conservative and Christian right circles, isn't.
"His challenge is, how do you rise above the fray?" said conservative activist Grover Norquist. "How do you get noticed? You need to have some disillusionment with some of the front-runners for people to keep checking back and saying, `Why not Brownback?'"
Campaign aides are counting on that question. Republican strategists and other political experts said that, given the GOP's shaky landscape and the questions dogging the party's early front-runners, it might be significant.
Here's what they said Brownback needs to do:
1. Raise money. As much as you can.
There are never any red (or blue) tag sales in presidential politics. The costs keep soaring. This time it could take $70 million or more to be in the hunt.
That's probably way out of Brownback's league. He began the year with about $600,000 that he transferred from his own Senate campaign account. The Republican front-runners—Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney—are all national names and will be money magnets.
"He's never going to win the money race," said Scott Reed, a Republican strategist who ran former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign. "He just needs to be credible."
2. Move to Iowa.
The Iowa caucuses in January are likely the be-all and could be the end-all of Brownback's campaign. Aides and other political experts said it's crucial that he finish near the top. Not only is he a fellow Midwesterner and practically a farm state neighbor who knows the difference between a short ton and long ton of corn, he's a favorite of the social conservatives who can decide Republican elections.
But Iowa voters, like their New Hampshire counterparts, like to talk to the candidates face to face. Brownback is still pretty much an unknown.
"I think he's a blip on the screen," said John Werden, the chairman of the Carroll County Republican Party in western Iowa. "He needs to get up here a little more."
If his campaign is still alive after Iowa, strategists said he must win somewhere else—quickly. Brownback has been to New Hampshire several times. But the ground might not be as fertile for his social conservative politics. It's also Romney territory.
South Carolina is more inviting, aides said. Its primary likely will fall in early February. But after that could come a cascade of contests, including a "Super Tuesday" on Feb. 5 involving nearly 20 states. Candidates will be scurrying to keep up.
3. Consolidate the base.
"Other candidates have to spend time and resources to figure out how to become attractive to the base of the Republican Party," said Brownback campaign manager Rob Wasinger. "Senator Brownback is already there."
Social conservatives like Brownback account for half to two-thirds of Republican caucus voters, according to Chuck Laudner of the Iowa Republican Party Central Committee. That explains why McCain and Romney have been trying to justify recent shifts on abortion, gay rights and other issues important to the Christian right. Giuliani's support for gay rights and abortion makes him a non-starter with most social conservatives.
4. Tell your story.
Candidates need narratives that give voters insight into their character. Everyone knows McCain's tale as a prisoner of war during Vietnam. Giuliani has Sept. 11.
Strategists said Brownback needs to be defined by more than his ties to the Christian right. They said his campaign should stress his politics beyond the divisive hot buttons, such as abortion and gay marriage. He should emphasize his battles for famine aid to Africa, crackdowns on the international sex trafficking of young girls, combating AIDS and prison changes.
5. Circle Aug. 11.
That's the date of the Iowa Straw Poll in Ames. It doesn't necessarily predict a winner, but it can be an elimination round.
"I think he has to do everything he can to hold through the straw poll," said Connie Mackey, a legislative strategist for the Family Research Council, a conservative policy group. "The poll is a real weeding-out situation for candidates who might be considered longer shots."
6. It bears repeating: Raise money. As much as you can.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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