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Brownback, An Outspoken Social Conservative

Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas has been one of the Senate's most outspoken social conservatives since he was first elected in 1996. Religion infuses his politics. Brownback, an evangelical Protestant-turned-Roman Catholic, attends two church services on Sundays and a weekly Bible study group.

His conservatism is apparent in much of the legislation he has sponsored, including a bill requiring that women seeking abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy be informed by their doctors that their fetuses can feel pain.

He's sponsored a bill to ban human cloning and opposed stem cell research, which he likens to slavery.

Brownback has also sought to increase indecency fines for broadcasters. In his capacity as chairman of the Commerce subcommittee on Science, he has held hearings on pornography addiction.

Religion has also played a role in Brownback's foreign policy positions. He visited refugee camps in Sudan in 2004 and returned to write a resolution labeling the situation in Darfur as genocide, and said the United States and other nations should become involved. He has reached across the aisle on occasion. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he worked with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) on legislation that imposed stricter entry standards at the nation's borders. Brownback worked with Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) to help win placement of the African American Museum on the National Mall in Washington.

And Brownback has not been afraid to oppose President Bush on some issues. Last year, the Kansan was one of the first conservatives to express doubts about Harriet Miers, who ultimately withdrew as Mr. Bush's Supreme Court nominee. He has also expressed unhappiness with the president's warrantless eavesdropping program.

The 49-year-old Brownback showed an early proficiency for politics, becoming student body president at Kansas State University. He was also a national officer of Future Farmers of America and served as Kansas' secretary of agriculture for six years.

He won election to the House in 1994, part of the powerful freshman Republican class that tried to remake that chamber. Brownback was part of the so-called New Federalists, who among other aims sought to abolish three Cabinet agencies. He supported campaign finance reform, and spoke at Ross Perot's United We Stand Convention in 1995. Brownback served just one term in the House, running for the Senate in 1996 after Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole announced he would resign his seat to run for president. Brownback won the primary by defeating former Lt. Gov. Sheila Frahm, who had been appointed to temporarily fill the seat. He defeated Democrat Jill Docking in the general election.

He easily won a full term in 1998 and re-election in 2004.

Now, Brownback is contemplating a run for president himself, believing his appeal to the social conservatives who comprise the core of the Republican Party can win him the GOP nomination. He has already made the obligatory campaign appearances in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Televangelist Pat Robertson had a similar long-shot strategy in 1988. Brownback clearly faces an uphill battle. Polls find him little known outside his home state, and he may not be the only social conservative candidate vying for the Republican presidential nomination. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Sen. George Allen of Virginia are also said to be contemplating running.

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Brian Naylor
NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.