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Oh-eight (R)

In addition to upping the number of Midwestern candidates in the field, Republican Sen. Sam Brownback's creation of an exploratory committee yesterday also draws attention to the fact that there are no bona fide social conservatives among the GOP's current crop of frontrunners.  Brownback clearly hopes to change that.

A year ago, few could have predicted that the three frontrunners for the Republican nomination would be a senator who favors embryonic stem cell research and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, a governor who twice campaigned on defending abortion rights, and a former mayor who not only supports gay rights but lived with a gay couple -- and their pet Shih Tzu -- after the breakup of his second marriage.  But as one of us writes on MSNBC.com, McCain, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani have emerged as their party's favorites after the GOP's midterm losses.  That worries some prominent conservatives, even though all three have moved to the right in the past year.

"'Right now, we're very concerned about it,' says Paul Weyrich, chairman and CEO of the conservative Free Congress Foundation.  Adds Charmaine Yoest, vice president for communications at the Family Research Council, 'There is a certain lack of excitement at the moment.'"

The fact that no true social conservative is among the party's frontrunners is partly a reflection of the midterm elections, which took out the man many saw as the conservative favorite: George Allen. "'With the Republicans' loss of the House and the Senate, and with the unpopularity of President Bush, I think that Republicans will look for someone who doesn't remind voters of George Bush,' observes Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University.  And Black believes that could possibly strengthen the GOP's hand in the general election.  'They need a candidate who can appeal not only to Republicans, but also independents,' he says.  'That's where Democrats really cleaned up [in 2006] -- with independents.'"

"Political observers view Brownback as an ambitious, hardworking politician who has earned the loyalty of GOP evangelical conservatives," says the Topeka paper.  "However, they say, Brownback remains a long-shot candidate to capture the White House...  Allan Cigler, professor of political science at The University of Kansas, said Brownback's popularity among Christian voters was unlikely to produce the kind of financial reservoir necessary to run a viable campaign." 

Brownback "has worked with Democrats on bills to stop human trafficking, end starvation in Uganda and genocide in Sudan, extend a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants, curb prison recidivism and ease the AIDS epidemic in Africa.  He has also pushed for a Smithsonian museum on African American history and for a federal apology to Native Americans, to 'help us move toward reconciliation' with two groups that 'didn't feel like America had been fair to them.'" 

After a 10-state tour, Brownback is going to jail.  "He plans to spend Friday night at Louisiana's notorious state penitentiary in Angola to highlight the problem of recidivism and programs that can help prisoners become law-abiding members of the community."