Brownback to Endorse McCain

Sam Brownback is set to endorse John McCain for president.

Sam Brownback, a Kansas conservative and favorite of evangelical Christians, will endorse his former Republican presidential rival John McCain, GOP officials said Wednesday. The nod could provide a much-needed boost, particularly in Iowa, for the Arizona senator and one-time presumed GOP front-runner whose bid faltered and who now is looking for a comeback.

Republican officials said Brownback will announce his support for McCain later Wednesday in Dubuque, Iowa, and then travel with the candidate to campaign in two other cities in the state. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid publicly pre-empting the announcement.

It’s uncertain how much weight the Brownback’s backing will carry; the Kansas senator dropped out of the race last month with little money and little support. While he is a favorite of religious conservatives, he failed to persuade them to embrace him as the GOP’s consensus conservative candidate. He spent months emphasizing his rock-solid opposition to abortion, gay marriage and other issues important to the party’s right flank, but left the race ranking low in national polls and state surveys.

Still, Brownback’s backing could signal to evangelical Christians that they can trust McCain and could help solidify McCain’s credentials on social issues. The endorsement could be especially important in Iowa, where McCain trails in polls. Despite a solidly conservative Senate voting record on social issues, McCain has a rocky history with cultural and religious conservatives who make up a significant part of the Republican base — and have proven to be influential in Iowa’s GOP caucuses.

At first blush, the endorsement would seem trivial, indeed. Brownback never got any traction in this race, staying well within the margin of error of me in both the national and early primary state polls. Still, it could indeed shore up McCain’s credentials with social conservatives and continue the momentum for McCain’s resurrection.

Most have written McCain off. I did so several months ago (see, for example, “McCain Done Before Primaries? and McCain Meltdown“) and many of his top staffers have jumped ship. He was recently trailing Ron Paul in cash on hand and seemed only slightly more likely to emerge as the nominee. He was trailing Barack Obama among Iowa Republicans!

Fred Barnes recently made headlines saying that only Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney have a plausible road to the nomination. I’m no longer so sure.

The Brownback nomination is barely worth mentioning in and of itself. It does, however, seem to be part of a trend. The schoolgirl crush conservatives had on Fred Thompson appears to be over. McCain is back at number two in the national polls and seems to be gaining on frontrunner Rudy Giuliani. He is, however, third or lower in all the early primary and caucus states.

Still, the support of all the top tier Republicans appears very soft.

Rudy Giuliani’s chief appeal, aside from the fact that he was on the scene at 9/11, is that he’s the candidate most likely to be able to defeat Hillary Clinton. While that may be strong motivation in the general election, I’m not sure it plays in the primaries.

Social conservatives continue to be wary of him, although he has managed to pick up the endorsement of Pat Robertson, for what it’s worth. And libertarian minded conservatives, such as myself, have a lot of concerns about him on both the domestic and foreign policy front.

Mitt Romney’s ability to self-finance commercials in Iowa and New Hampshire have given him a strong lead there but I just don’t see Southern evangelicals warming to a dog-abusing Mormon.

The Republican nominating electorate continues, as it has from the beginning, to look for someone else. It may well be that McCain, for all his flaws, winds up being that someone else, even though he began the race as the frontrunner.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.