SEN. Sam Brownback of Kansas reduced the field of Republican candidates for president last week by announcing his withdrawal from the 2008 race.
He conceded that his effort had never gained real traction and that he had run out of money, a critical element as the Iowa caucuses approach. He also said that he regretted having missed a third of the votes in the Senate this session while he pursued the nomination.
Mr. Brownback's departure comes at a time in the Republican campaign when the remaining eight candidates are eagerly courting the so-called base of the party, its stalwart conservative, religious right, hard core whose support is considered to be essential to gain the nomination.
Mr. Brownback's record and his beliefs would have seemed to be a very good fit for that group. He opposes abortion, was one of the Republican candidates who does not believe in evolution, and during his 10 years in the Senate has been considered to be a champion of conservative views.
Other Republican candidates, including former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney are visibly dancing the light fantastic as they seek to establish the conservative credentials that Mr. Brownback already has. Front-runners Giuliani and Romney in particular are having a hard time of it; in their past political lives, both have expressed liberal views the far right cannot abide.
It was instructive to see the Republican candidates, on view in a debate at Orlando, Fla., Sunday night, promote the view that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has already wrapped up the Democratic nomination. Their reason for doing so is because the Republicans want Ms. Clinton to be the Democratic candidate, believing that she would be the easiest Democrat to defeat in November, 2008.
Ms. Clinton, meanwhile, has every reason to nurture the idea that she is the inevitable Democratic candidate. She is ahead in the polls. She continues to rake in big money, although some of it has been from dubious sources, including questionable donors in New York's Chinatown.
In fact, the Democratic race is still very much alive. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois peaked too soon but continues to run well. Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina continues to rack up strong union endorsements, including the 656,000-member Service Employees' International Union of California. And some interesting Democratic dark horses remain in the race, including New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
The encouraging part of Mr. Brownback's departure from the race is that the candidate selection process is working. Former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson preceded him to the showers and before even one vote is cast, the field is narrowing.
Raising money seems to be the defining attribute of the GOP field, but that is entirely the wrong indicator from which to judge a potential new president.
What big money measures is simply which candidate boasts the most donors with a lot of excess cash. They are definitely not the people who should choose our candidates, or our president.
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