Most second- and third-tier presidential candidates fuss about a lack of media attention and the mainstream media's general tendency to treat their campaigns as equaling the significance of a stalk of corn in an Iowa cornfield. The social conservative Sen. Sam Brownback wouldn't hesitate to blame his lack of political traction on the media's failures to take his candidacy seriously. Well, Brownback is getting some attention, but it's not quite the coverage a candidate wants. According to the Associated Press, the candidate who was supposed to be ideal for Christian Republicans will drop out of the 2008 presidential campaign on Friday. Money is the big issue (only about $4 million overall), and it seems that Brownback is angling toward a 2010 Kansas governor's race since his promise to serve only two terms in the Senate is about to come due:
Besides money, Brownback's support for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants hurt him in Iowa, an early-voting state that has struggled to provide education, medical care and other services as the number of immigrants has more than doubled since 1990.
Brownback spent a good chunk of his money on the Iowa straw poll, an early test of strength whose significance diminished after Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani decided not to compete. He finished third behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
The next question for Brownback is which of the many Republican candidates will receive his endorsement or his Iowa organization. McCain? Giuliani? Why not the most ideologically compatible Huckabee? Remember that squabble Brownback and Huckabee had a few months ago? Who benefits the most and could get a bump in support, if anyone?
In a Christianity Today Q&A posted this morning, Brownback says a combination of factors have kept evangelicals from rallying behind him:
One is that I am not as highly visible as some of the other candidates. Second, we haven't raised the amount of funds that some of other candidates have. I think there is a general position on our side that people are watching and waiting. They're waiting to see the candidates run for a while before [they] decide. It is very early. Some people are tired, just of politics, saying, "I'm just weary."
CBN News Senior National Correspondent David Brody chalks it up to another factor: personality:
Listen, let's be real and honest here. From a social conservative perspective, Brownback had the resume. Pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, against embryonic stem cell research, the list goes on and on. I mean he was even head of the Values Action Team on Capitol Hill and was very close to many of the Evangelical leaders who never endorsed him. Looking back, if they had gotten behind him early, maybe things would have been different. I know from talking to the Brownback campaign that there's a certain amount of disappointment that conservative groups never rallied around him. But the rap against Senator Brownback was that he lacked charisma. Put another way: he was a little boring and not all that inspiring. When you have that plus you can't raise much money, that's called game, set, match.
The demise of Brownback's candidacy is part of a larger story about the conservative Christians who helped propel the Republican Party to power over the last decade or so. It would be wrong for the media to portray this as any key moment in the decline of the movement. In a sense, the story about the decline of the movement has been in the works and in publication since the 2006 congressional elections.
A candidate for this bloc of voters still exists in Huckabee, and both McCain and Romney are trying to bring the group into their tent, making it too early to use Brownback's exit as an obituary on the religious right. But even with Brownback gone from the field, is there any realistic chance that the conservative Christians voters will consolidate around a candidate in a significant fashion in an effort to make a difference in 13 months?