Brownback comes back to Washington

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Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) will look to recharge his political and policy batteries in Washington on Thursday during an economic speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

For the former senator, it’s a chance to ease concern among his Washington allies after a rough start to his 2014 reelection bid, subsequently silencing any speculation about him running as a dark-horse candidate in the 2016 presidential race.

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When asked if another White House bid was on his radar, Brownback was blunt: "Nope," he said in an interview. "2014 is on my radar."

Brownback, who briefly ran for president in 2008, said that, while he's in Washington, he'll meet with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who worked for Brownback in the Senate. 

The governor is also slated to meet with Arthur Laffer, former economic adviser to President Reagan, who will appear alongside him at Heritage.

Back home, the politics have been less friendly. Polls show an increasingly close race between Brownback and his leading Democratic challenger, state Rep. Paul Davis. 

The start of Brownback's reelection campaign has been overshadowed by negative headlines. The FBI is reportedly investigating some of the governor's closest allies who allegedly used their political access to illegally make business deals.

"It's a smear campaign effort and that's all I'm going to say about that," Brownback said.

The same week the FBI investigation surfaced, Moody's downgraded the state's bond rating.

"They've been downgrading a lot of states," Brownback said dismissively. 

But Moody's economists specifically cited Brownback's tax policy in their downgrade, the same policies he'll look to highlight in his economic policy speech on Thursday.

According to Moody's: "The downgrade reflects Kansas' relatively sluggish recovery compared with its peers, the use of non-recurring measures to balance the budget, revenue reductions (resulting from tax cuts) which have not been fully offset by recurring spending cuts, and an underfunded retirement system for which the state is not making actuarially required contributions."

Brownback blames public pension program costs for unfairly weighing down the state's economy. It's an argument other conservative governors, including Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), also make. 

"Our pro-growth tax reforms have us on a glide-path to zero for individual tax rates," Brownback will say at Heritage, according to prepared remarks. "Kansas is leading a Midwest renaissance. Moving forward, inclusiveness, innovative and transformative goals and policies will be the traits of our economic policy."

But whether Brownback's message will resonate in Washington louder than his political problems back home remains to be seen. University of Kansas political science professor Burdett Loomis isn't so sure.

"Honestly, the perception is that he came back from the Senate as governor so that he could build a record here to run for president, or maybe become eligible for vice president," Loomis said. "There's no question about that. Now, politically, he's got an a lot looming over him."

Brownback won his gubernatorial race in 2010 by more than 30 points in the heavily conservative state. But the most recent automated survey from Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, taken before the FBI investigation reports, had Brownback leading Davis by 7 percentage points.

Kansas Republican Party Executive director Clay Barker said that, after the recent bad publicity, Brownback's reelection campaign met last week to revamp strategy.

"We knew our team had to change its focus," said Barker, "and now we got is reelection going finally."

For his part, Brownback doesn't seem worried. 

"We changed a number of things in the state of Kansas," Brownback said. "I need to take that public in Kansas and tell people what we did and show them our results."