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Starting Gate: So Long Sam

(AP Photo)
Before this two-year campaign even started to take shape last January, there was one name being circulated among conservatives as a dark-horse favorite who just might become their standard-bearer and a major factor in the nomination fight. Today that candidate, Sam Brownback, will announce that he's ending his candidacy. A victim of high-profile opponents and, perhaps, a less-than electric personality, Brownback's candidacy is a prime example of one of the most puzzling dynamics of the GOP race.

A party heavily influenced by social conservatives has no candidate that satisfies their agenda to a degree that we've become accustomed to seeing. Indeed, candidates like Brownback and Mike Huckabee have struggled to gain a measure of traction, either in polls or fundraising, while Rudy Giuliani has risen to the top of the field. Huckabee and Brownback have competed against one another for Iowa conservatives, sometimes in harsh tones, but even taken together they remain on the lower rung of the field. In the meantime, conservatives have grumbled at times about all their major candidates – Giuliani, Mitt Romney, John McCain and Fred Thompson.

Today, some 2,000 evangelicals will hear from the Republican candidates at a "values voters" conference, looking for one to excite and mobilize a potent segment of the party. That the one who may fit best with their positions and agenda will instead be back home in Kansas announcing his departure from the race says something about this curious campaign.


Purity Watch: Barack Obama has been ratcheting up the rhetoric against Hillary Clinton of late and yesterday made the case that he would be the strongest general election candidate in harsh terms, according to the AP: "My Republican opponent won't be able to say that we both supported the war in Iraq, because I didn't. … My opponent won't be able to say that I haven't been open or straight with the American people or that I've flipped and flopped my positions, because I haven't. I've been consistent this whole time. … My Republican opponent won't be able to say that, 'Well, we really agree about using the war in Iraq to justify military action against Iran, or about a diplomacy of not talking and saber-rattling, because I don't agree with those approaches." What will his primary opponent have to say about that?

Two More Weeks Of Waiting: New Hampshire Secretary of State yesterday indicated that he will wait until the state's filing deadline before setting a primary date. If he decides to move the primary up all the way to December 11th, a possibility he has hinted at, that would leave just over one month for campaigning in the state. Waiting for two more weeks also means more fretting by campaign strategists uncertain about where to put time and resources. In any event, says Gardner, once he's set the date it will not change again. At least we have that.

Around the Track

  • Having said last month that he was unaware of the controversy surrounding oil reserves in the Florida Everglades, Fred Thompson returns to the state this weekend and is making his position on drilling in the national preserve crystal clear. "It's a national treasure and it's not to be messed with and I can't imagine anybody doing so."
  • Meanwhile, Thompson is running a new Web ad attacking Giuliani and Romney for not being "real" conservatives. "I was a proud conservative yesterday, I remain one today, and I will be one tomorrow," Thompson says in the ad.
  • John McCain says he won't run as an independent candidate for president under any circumstances.
  • The Obama campaign has set up a "rapid response" team for the stretch run.
  • What does President Bush think of the primary calendar? He's just glad he's not running, according to White House Press Secretary Dana Perino. "The president first and foremost is grateful he's not a candidate this year. He's glad he's not out there. He thinks it is running very early."