GOP Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas is profiled today in a superb piece from USA Today’s Susan Page – who gets a rare chance to stretch out and show her reporting chops beyond the standard 400 word piece that’s the dull hallmark of USAT.
The point of the piece is that the GOP better wake up and realize Brownback has the potential to win the
2008 Iowa caucus, and despite his current low name id, there’s precedent — in addition to the fact he’s from a neighboring state.
In 1988, Page points out, Pat Robertson stunned then-vice president George Bush by organizing evangelicals in Iowa and beating him here; Dole finished first that year. Since then, candidates targeting Iowa’s conservative Christians have claimed about one-fourth of the Republican caucus vote: 25% for Robertson in 1988, 23% for Pat Buchanan in 1996, 23% combined for Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer in 2000.
The influence and importance of this evangelical GOP constituency was on full display when, in 1999, at a debate on WHO-TV in Des Moines, then-candidate George W. Bush answered a question by saying Jesus Christ was, in his opinion, the most important historical figure in history.
It was a great answer, and it’s easy to remember the energy and power of this response during the debate, and the extent to which it resonated with these key caucus voters. All of the public and private overnite data showed Bush got a nice pop, and one can argue it convinced many on-the-fence evangelicals that Bush was their guy.
With a huge multi-candidate field of McCain, Romney, Allen, Pataki and several others, Brownback can triumph with a narrowcast anti-abortion, anti-stem cell research, anti-gay marriage message. George Allen, already pinned down in his ’06 re-elect, should view a Brownback candidacy as a threat, and a strong Brownback showing in Iowa could marginalize Allen even before he gets to New Hampshire.
But here’s the bottom line: even if Brownback does win Iowa, he’ll trail off badly and possibly come in last, or second to third to last, in New Hampshire — his message won’t fly there.
As Pete du Pont’s New Hampshire press secretary in 1988, we were hoping not to be last after getting blown out in Iowa (a primary du Pont campaign plank sought to eliminate farm subsidies). In the end, we weren’t last — Pat Robertson was last after having been the big news out of Iowa.