Washington As Sam Brownback surveyed the presidential landscape over the past two years, he always insisted he had one major advantage: The country was becoming more conservative.
Maybe not. The results of Election 2006 cast doubt on the conservative Kansas senator's central assertion and further complicate his long-shot bid for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.
Democrats ascended to power in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and some conservative icons lost their seats. Voters in Missouri approved an initiative protecting embryonic stem cell research.
Voters in South Dakota rejected a nearly total ban on abortion. Voters in Arizona defeated an initiative banning gay marriage, the first such proposed ban to lose.
"People are tired of the far right," said Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, the executive director of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a moderate group. "In order to win the presidential (election), we have to ... try to get away from the social issues and try to deal with the real issues facing the country."
Brownback and his aides dispute that notion, interpreting the election instead as a message to Republicans to "get back to basics," including a focus on social conservatism, said Brian Hart, Brownback's spokesman.
"This is still a center-right country, trending more and more conservative," Hart said, pointing out that gay marriage bans passed in seven other states on Tuesday and that many newly elected Democrats ran on conservative platforms.
Nothing about the election factored into Brownback's decision-making process about whether to run, which is nearly concluded, Hart said.
Should Brownback run, Hart said: "He will lead with social issues as well as fiscal issues. There's still a big need to talk about the renewal of our culture. That still resonates across the country."
While Brownback must overcome major financial and organizational obstacles if he's to mount a serious bid, there's still plenty of support for the social conservative agenda within the GOP.
House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, of Missouri, gave a speech Thursday on the future of conservatism that blamed the media for distorting Republicans' focus on values as pandering to "family groups."
Blunt called on Republicans to continue to "reinforce traditional values. And ... seize such opportunities not because they appear on the list of votes for one group or another, but because they are the right thing to do."
Brownback could benefit politically from the Republicans' loss of Congress and the losses social conservatives took on Election Day, said Tom McClusky of the Family Research Council, a leading conservative group that espouses traditional family values.
"If there is any bright spot in all this for conservatives or Republicans going into 2008, it's that you do better when you can rail against someone," McClusky said. "Sam Brownback will be the voice for conservatives on Capitol Hill, especially in the Senate."