Kansas Newspaper Archives Give Brownback Romney-itis

While Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) has won the hearts of the Religious Right with his fervent advocacy on causes from stem cells to Christmas, the long-shot presidential candidate has yet to win their minds: “Brownback has to prove he can win,” as Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention said. One part of his strategy to do so, apparently, is to convince the far Right that no other candidate will satisfy them. He saw an opening when doubts were raised about the longevity of former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Massachusetts)’s commitment to right-wing positions on abortion and gays, but as it turns out, that left him vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy from his home state.

As reported in The New Republic and elsewhere, when Brownback first ran for Congress, his position on abortion was less than clear. Now, the Kansas City Star is reprinting a pair of articles from 1996 that raise even more questions. Republicans with moderate stands on abortion thought he was one of them:

When Sam Brownback first ran for Congress, Dixie Roberts thought she knew his type — Main Street Kansas Republican with mainstream values.

“I liked Sam. I thought he was a moderate,” recalls the Republican activist from Manhattan.

Glenn Walker, a party worker from Hiawatha, had the same impression, that Brownback was heir to the Kansas Republican Party of Alf Landon, Dwight Eisenhower and Nancy Kassebaum, fiscally conservative and moderate on the social issues.

No wonder they were more than a little surprised in 1995, when their congressman turned out to be one of the new Republican revolutionaries, an outspoken firebrand in one of the most conservative Congresses in history.

Conservatives cried hallelujah, while moderates in Brownback’s 2nd District were incredulous.

“I thought that Sam … moved farther right than what I thought he was,” Walker said. “Maybe I misread him.”

If moderates did misread Brownback, so did anti-abortion activists. “He changed his position” since running in 1993, said David Gittrich, executive director of Kansans for Life, in another 1996 article.

If he did, of course, he wouldn’t be the first far-right politician to do so and to still earn the full support of the Religious Right. Rick Santorum (R-PA), who was the Senate’s most vocal anti-abortion activist until he was voted out in November, began his political career with a position paper supporting abortion rights (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/1990). And Romney has cited Ronald Reagan’s evolution on the subject as Reagan constructed the right-wing coalition that would drive his ascent to the White House. But similar revelations about Brownback could neutralize his attempt to woo the Religious Right away from Romney, and thus keep Brownback in the long-shot category, far away from the generous donors he needs to break away.