Topeka Sen. Sam Brownback began a long-shot bid for president on Saturday, hoping his reputation as a favorite son of the religious right can help him outdistance better known Republican rivals. "I am a conservative and I'm proud of being a conservative," he proclaimed.
"My family and I are taking the first steps on the yellow brick road to the White House. It's a great journey," Brownback said, returning to his home state to declare his intention to seek his party's nomination in 2008. The "yellow brick road" was the fictional Dorothy's path back home to Kansas in "The Wizard of Oz" film.
The two-term senator said he will fight to renew America's cultural values and pledged to focus on rebuilding families.
"Search the record of history. To walk away from the Almighty is to embrace decline for a nation," Brownback said. "To embrace Him leads to renewal, for individuals and for nations."
Brownback laced his speech with the themes that have made him a leader of the Republican Party's conservative wing and a strong spokesman in Congress for socially conservative Christians.
A fierce foe of abortion, he planned to return to Washington to participate in an anti-abortion rally Monday marking the 34th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that established a nationwide right to the procedure. Brownback also opposes embryonic stem-cell research and gay marriage.
After his speech, he told reporters: "My positions are at the heart of where the Republican Party is. I'm willing to take those positions with all comers."
Brownback's announcement came hours after Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York entered her party's 2008 race. Brownback noted the gulf in their views.
"Let's have a debate," he said. "I don't think the country has moved from the center-right." Noting the time of her announcement, Brownback said, "I don't know why she did that. I guess she's scared of me."
The Democratic National Committee issued a statement calling Brownback "a stubborn ideologue who places his own political agenda over the needs of the American people."
In his announcement, Brownback said the country needs to support the traditional definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman and said most Americans "feel deeply in their hearts" for "a culture of life."
"Let's start following our hearts and work to protect all innocent human life at all stages," he said. "It's all beautiful. It is all sacred."
He pledged never to sign a tax increase if elected president and proposed scrapping the current income tax law, saying it "should be taken behind the barn and killed with a dull ax."
Brownback faces a crowded field of potential Republican hopefuls that includes Arizona Sen. John McCain, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani _ all with the fundraising skills and experienced campaign staff for the long haul.
Brownback, 50, offers himself as a "full-scale Ronald Reagan conservative."
In recent weeks, conservatives have expressed reservations about McCain and Romney, wondering whether their past statements on rights for homosexuals reflect a more moderate view. Giuliani has been a longtime supporter of abortion rights, gay rights and gun control.
Brownback's causes have included restoring a "family hour" to television, an amendment to the Constitution banning same-sex marriage and legislation to prohibit human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research.
While he is on solid footing on social issues, Brownback has broken with some Republicans on the Iraq war and immigration.
He opposes President George W. Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq, saying, "Iraq requires a political rather than a military solution." Brownback also favors an eventual path to citizenship for some of the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants.
In his speech, Brownback called for a bipartisan strategy for the war, making the United States energy efficient and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. But he received the loudest cheers when he discussed social issues.
"He has a track record. He's consistent in his beliefs," said Brenda Travis, a pastor at a Topeka church. "You know exactly what you get."
Brownback was one of the first Republicans to announce an exploratory committee in early December. His candidacy remains a long shot in what has become a crowded Republican field of almost 10 potential candidates.
Brownback was raised on a farm near tiny Parker, Kansas _ population 281 today _ where his parents still live.
He was elected to the House in 1994, part of the Republican revolution that gave the party control of both the House and Senate for the first time in 40 years.
Two years later, Brownback was elected to the Senate, winning the seat Bob Dole vacated to run for the presidency. Brownback, who promised to serve no more than two full terms, has said he will not seek re-election in 2010.