Some call him a reformer, others an extremist. Sam Brownback calls himself a "common-sense Kansan."
Sam Brownback winces as the characterization comes up.
He's heard it before: that he's a slash-and-burn legislator in Newt Gingrich's mold, an attack dog for the conservative right.
In a word, that he's an extremist.
"I am not an extremist," said Brownback, the GOP candidate for Bob Dole's former Senate seat. "I'm a common-sense Kansan. I'm fourth-generation for this state. I supported some very common-sense measures."
In 1994, while promising to reduce and reform government, Brownback rode a Republican wave into the House of Representatives. Two years later, some of his reform measures are coming under fire by Democrats and Brownback's Democratic rival, Jill Docking.
In Democratic advertisements, Brownback has been slammed for cutting student loans and failing to support strict crime legislation, among other things.
The criticism isn't true, Brownback said.
He said that during his term, Congress increased student loan funding from $24 billion to $36 billion. Brownback said the student-loan charge stemmed from his vote for a cap on direct student loaning, a vote that had nothing to do with loan amounts.
"I supported increases in student loans," he said. "I used student loans myself when I was a student at the University of Kansas."
Brownback said his record on crime also disproved Democrats' allegations. He said he helped approve a $1.4 billion community policing program, a bill that made interstate stalking a federal offense and increases in prison funding, among other measures.
While defending his record, Brownback has countered Docking by labeling her as an "extreme liberal."
"I support a balanced budget, she doesn't," he said. "I support tax cuts, she supports tax increases."
As he stumps to move from the House to Dole's old seat, Brownback is reiterating his reform theme from his House campaign. He recently adopted a list of 12 reforms he said he would attempt to have adopted, including 12-year term limits for Congress members, a 10 percent cut in congressional salaries and limits on campaign contributions from out-of-state people and groups.
During his House term, Brownback cut his salary, office staff and office budget by 10 percent and banned gifts and meals from special interests.
Brownback's campaign has suggested that Docking and Kansas Democrats would reverse his progress, pointing to campaign donations that Docking had received from the AFL-CIO and other "liberal special interests."
"The labor unions want the federal government to insert itself much, much more on issues across the country," he said, adding that unions had spent $35 million in Kansas.