WASHINGTON—Barely registering in early polls for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas insists that he will rally conservatives, build momentum in small early-voting states and win the race in South Carolina.
"You have to get in it in Iowa, you've got to stay in it in New Hampshire, you have to win it in South Carolina," he said Thursday in a luncheon interview with McClatchy Newspapers reporters and editors in Washington.
He'll do it, he said, by selling a record and platform that will appeal to all elements of the party's conservative base—on economics, defense and social issues—that so far find none of the top-tier candidates acceptable on all fronts.
Brownback calls himself "a bleeding-heart conservative." He pushes a bipartisan approach to curbing gun violence in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre as well as to the war in Iraq. He focuses on human rights in Iran as the best way to stoke Iranian discontent with the regime. He also calls for shifting U.S. foreign policy toward the Islamic world to emphasize a Cold War-like strategy that combines engagement and containment.
"There are a lot of people who are very demoralized right now," he said, speaking of his fellow Republicans. "I think they're open to be rallied. . . . I'm the tortoise in the race. I don't like how that race starts. I love how that race finishes."
Trailing not only in early polls but also in fundraising—he ended the first quarter on March 31 with only $800,000 in his campaign account—Brownback said his campaign will benefit from the retail politics of the first three small states scheduled to vote next January.
As voters in those states tune in, he said, they'll tune out today's front-runner, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, because he's liberal on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, and that'll shake up the race.
"Things will shift. And I think they will shift pretty radically," Brownback said.
Then, he said, he'll get his chance.
Iowa is slated to hold precinct caucuses on Jan. 14, New Hampshire is scheduled to vote on Jan. 22, and South Carolina is scheduled to vote on Feb. 2.
A big group of large states is scheduled to vote on Feb. 5.
His emphasis on working with Democrats on major national problems departs from the call to partisan battle that primary voters often cheer. To curb violence in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, for example, he said leaders on both sides should discuss not only limits on guns, but also mental health issues and the impact of popular culture, such as video games, on behavior.
"This is my great frustration in this town. You'll get answers that will actually work if you sit down and talk with each other. But we don't do it."
He also pushed for a bipartisan approach to Iraq. He credited Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, a presidential candidate in the rival party, for his proposal to establish Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite zones in Iraq.
"The answer on Iraq lies with both parties," Brownback said. "Each of the two parties have a piece of this puzzle. The Democrats are more focused on how do you talk through these things, and the Republicans are more focused on the use of the military apparatus. You're going to need both of them."
He also urged a shift in foreign policy away from President Bush's doctrine of pre-emption, which led to the Iraq war, and toward engaging some Muslim countries, such as Egypt and Pakistan, while containing others, such as Iran.
" Pre-emption was an unusual doctrine for the United States," he said, calling it understandable after 9-11 but no longer the correct course. "I think you're going to see us now move much more to a much more typical U.S. foreign-policy position, more along that line of containment and engagement. I think that's wise."
For more on Brownback's campaign, go to www.brownback.com.
For comments or questions, go to www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/news/special(underscore)packages/election2008/qa(underscore)forum.htm
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
Need to map