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Pure Horserace: Brownback's Bold Move

When Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback entered the race for the Republican presidential nomination, he wasn't placed in the top tier, but was expected to still be a factor, especially when it came down to attracting the evangelical Christian voters that comprise a large part of the GOP voting base. But until this point, Brownback has largely been a non-entity in the contest, his fundraising and poll numbers putting him at the bottom of the field.

However, his campaign is now getting some headlines in Iowa, where second-tier GOP hopefuls have suddenly become, well, hopeful as the state's much-touted straw poll nears. Rudy Giuliani and John McCain aren't competing in the August poll, and Fred Thompson likely won't be in the race by then. That leaves Mitt Romney as the sold top-tier candidate who will compete in Ames — and now even he's pulling back a bit on what was an all-out effort to win the contest. The circumstances have candidates like Brownback eyeing a strong second-place finish — and maybe even a win — as their best and probably last chance at becoming a factor in the race.

Evidence indicates Brownback has no interest in finishing in second place. The Des Moines Register reports that Brownback's campaign is making automated phone calls to voters that recycle a claim once used by McCain's campaign — that Romney supported maintaining Massachusetts' relatively liberal abortion laws while governor — while also mentioning that Romney's wife, Ann, once donated money to Planned Parenthood.

So-called robo-calls aren't highly regarded as a tactic, but Brownback is standing by the practice — as well as the claims he's making. "If anything we're saying is untrue, I will issue an apology," Brownback said. "But nothing I'm saying is untruthful. They haven't been hesitant about pointing these issues out on me."

The calls are but one part of Brownback's effort to place well in the straw poll, which, even though its significance has been reduced by a lack of big names, still at least has the potential of crowning the race's unofficial dark horse. The Kansan is clearly placing his hopes on his anti-abortion credentials, and is even riding around the state with a "Choose Life" license plate frame.

But the use of automated calling, and Brownback's defense of the practice, also implies that Brownback knows Ames is his last stand — unless he does very well. Even an annoying tactic makes people remember who you are, and talking about it in the state's largest newspaper even more so. But while Brownback is getting attention today, that could change as other Republican candidates make their own last-ditch efforts to score a straw poll victory. This contest, which once seemed like a lock for Romney, is now just a little harder to predict — and it has the GOP hopefuls ready to pounce on an opportunity. — David Miller

Will The Last One Out Turn Off The Lights? Another week, another set of defections from John McCain's presidential campaign. This time, according to The Wall Street Journal, McCain's advertising team of Russ Schriefer and Stuart Stevens are the latest to depart, following most of McCain's press operation and, of course, campaign manager Terry Nelson and top adviser John Weaver.

But the departures of Schriefer and Stevens may be more than just the continuation of a trend. Clearly, the two weren't convinced by efforts made by McCain and new campaign manager Rick Davis that, after a shaky couple of weeks, the organization had a new strategy and a way forward. Not to mention that, according to the Journal, the two hadn't been paid in some time.

Logistically, how significant is this loss for McCain? Actually, it might not be much of a setback. McCain's new strategy is focused on performing well in early-voting states where retail politics, not commercials, hold sway. The campaign also plans on using free media events to its advantage — signaling that commercials aren't going to be a crucial element to a planned comeback. — David Miller

Big Bounce: Over the past two days, we've detailed the ongoing argument between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, which started during Monday's Democratic debate, over meeting with the leaders of antagonistic nations. The verdict in the media over who won that argument, and the overall debate, has been split. But according to at least one poll, voters in South Carolina, where the debate took place, think Clinton was the winner.

An Insider Advantage poll taken the day after the debate shows Clinton leading Obama, 43 percent to 28 percent. John Edwards trailed at 13 percent and all other candidates were in single digits. Most polls up until now had shown Obama trailing Clinton in South Carolina by a slim margin, and one even showed Obama leading.

Of course, any poll at this point should be taken with a grain of salt. But if the results are an accurate reflection of how voters feel, we may not have heard the last of Clinton calling Obama "irresponsible and naïve." — David Miller

Meanwhile, In New Hampshire… Obama scored a fairly significant endorsement today, gaining the backing of Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes. The Obama campaign hyped the endorsement a little more than one would expect, but as Hodes' district is in New Hampshire and he's only one of two House members from the state, it's easy to see why the campaign felt like building up the hype. While Hodes, like any member of Congress, is a "superdelegate" to the Democratic National Convention, his real value to Obama lies in his ability to help Obama come from behind and overtake Hillary Clinton in a state that he knows well and is key to winning the party's nomination.

Hodes knows something about coming from behind, too. He scored one of the many upsets of the 2006 midterm elections, knocking off incumbent Republican Charlie Bass — two years after Bass defeated him with ease. — David Miller

Editor's note: Pure Horserace is a daily update of political news as interpreted by the political observers at Click here to sign up for the e-mail version.

By David Miller