Add another name to the list of potential 2008 presidential candidates (search): Sen. Sam Brownback (search). The Kansas Republican, little known outside his home state, is using a network of social conservatives and Christian activists to raise his profile in Iowa and New Hampshire, two states critical to White House hopefuls.
In an interview Thursday, Brownback said he has not made a formal decision on whether to run and would not give a timetable on when he would decide.
"I'm exploring the options," Brownback said. "There's a lot of interest in the topics that I've been pushing for some time."
Brownback, 48, is also talking strategy with Chuck Hurley, a former Iowa state legislator who is president of the Iowa Family Policy Center (search), a conservative advocacy group. Brownback and Hurley were college and law school classmates.
"I am 100 percent behind him personally, in terms of a presidential bid," Hurley said. "My friendship and my confidence in Sam as a leader is what's driving me personally. Professionally, I think he'd do a great job on our issues."
Besides introducing Brownback to key Republicans in Iowa, Hurley took the senator on a road trip in December to meet with Christian men's groups in the state.
"He was talking about what it means to be a Christian in public life," Hurley said. "I think before he is going to commit to a campaign, he needs to get a feel for Iowans."
Brownback is also making inroads in New Hampshire, where he will be the keynote speaker on April 16 at an award ceremony honoring state legislators for their support of conservative causes.
Hurley said he visited Washington in February and March to talk strategy with Brownback and his staff. "Several of the discussions talked about the Iowa caucuses," Hurley said. "Definitely we were talking specifics on how to win Iowa."
Brownback served as agriculture secretary in Kansas before he was elected to the U.S. House in 1994. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996, winning the seat of former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who resigned to run for president. He won a third term in the Senate last year.
Brownback has seen his profile rise with strong stands against abortion and gay marriage. On foreign policy, he was an early advocate of U.S. action to stop genocide in Sudan's Darfur (search) region.
Still, veterans of Iowa's caucuses say it will be a challenge for Brownback to forge a national reputation.
"In my view he has a long way to go," said Steve Roberts, a Des Moines lawyer and member of the Republican National Committee who met Brownback at an Iowa reception last July. "He is virtually unknown out here."