Sam Brownback brought his pro-life, family-values message to Rock Hill on Tuesday, telling a Republican audience that curing the nation's ills starts in the home.
Still searching for momentum in a campaign that has struggled to catch on, the Kansas senator played up his conservative credentials while lashing out at Democrats over abortion, taxes and terrorism.
"The Democrats are on the other side on all these issues," he told 40 people at Thursday's Too restaurant. "They're not for standing on the side of life. They're not for strengthening the economy. They're going soft on security issues while we're at war."
Brownback sought to portray his third-place finish in Saturday's Iowa straw poll as a win, though many election-watchers have begun asking how much longer he'll stay in the race.
"They need to look at history," Brownback said to reporters afterward. "The winner has come out of the top three, not the top two. Iowa is the winnowing grounds. A top three finish in that straw poll is a victory."
The problem for Brownback is that another middle America conservative, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, appears to be emerging as the religious right's favored candidate. Huckabee, who will throw out the first pitch at a Charlotte Knights game on Tuesday, finished second in Iowa behind top vote-getter and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
"Finishing third behind Huckabee makes it tough for the Kansas senator to make the argument that he is the most viable social conservative candidate in the field," Washington Post columnist Chris Cillizza wrote this week. "This is a major setback."
Brownback made no mention of ending his bid but did say he plans to take a vacation with his family this weekend, a time that could potentially be used to contemplate his future.
Contrast with other candidates
York County GOP Chairman Glenn McCall alluded to what many Republicans decry as a shortage of true conservatives in the field, mentioning Brownback's pro-life stance and his support for the war in Iraq as valuable attributes.
"Most importantly for me, he's a strong social conservative," McCall said. "You don't get all three, as you can tell, nowadays."
Brownback's foreign policy views also set him apart. He advocates a greater U.S. role in stopping the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan and proposes dividing Iraq into three districts, with Baghdad as a federalized city. In outlining those positions, he took a not-so-subtle jab at President Bush.
"The next president needs to know foreign policy going in -- and not learn it on the job," he said. "We have got to walk wiser and humbler around the world."
Brownback's visit kicks off a wave of candidate appearances expected in York County. Aside from Huckabee, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has told Republicans he'll be here in October.
On the Democratic side, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden is expected to stop in Rock Hill soon, and party members are abuzz with talk that New York Sen. Hillary Clinton will visit town by September to open a campaign headquarters.