The earth becomes a viable campaign issue

In American politics, we’re used to hearing Republicans use the language of faith. And we’re used to hearing Democrats talk tough on protecting the environment.

But this year, we’re starting to notice candidates from both sides mixing the two, perhaps hoping that breaking that language barrier can win them cross-over support.

Last week, on a rainy Sunday, Sen. Barack Obama held an inter-faith forum at the Des Moines Public Library to talk about how his Christian faith — something he picked up relatively late in life — influences his hopes of protecting the planet from global warming and man-made destruction. “The Bible tells us that when God created the Earth, he entrusted us with the responsibility to take care of that Earth — to exercise stewardship over His creation,” Obama told a couple hundred people in the audience.

That reminded us of something we hear from the other side of the political divide.

Consider what former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, says on his Web site on “Faith and Politics”: “My faith is my life — it defines me. My faith doesn’t influence my decisions, it drives them. For example, when it comes to the environment, I believe in being a good steward of the Earth. I don’t separate my faith from my personal and professional lives. “It remains to be seen whether either man can win significant cross-over support, but it’s noteworthy that they’re both trying to cross the language barrier that sometimes separates liberals and conservatives, heaven and earth.

Politics doesn’t get much more “back roads” than this.

We were driving down the Iowa campaign trail on Wednesday. A fast-talking Democratic strategist named Dave “Mudcat” Saunders was riding shotgun for a rolling interview. We were on our way to Sen. John Edwards’ appearance at a hog barn.

And at a pit stop, we met this fellow named “Cooter” — one of the most famous grease monkeys in American history — and asked him to pose in front of a gas pump, just for old time’s sake.

Former congressman Ben “Cooter” Jones, who played mechanic “Cooter Davenport” on the series “The Dukes of Hazzard,” added a country form of star power to Edwards’ trip to rural Iowa on Wednesday. In small towns like Rock Rapids, Sidley, Estherville and Cylinder, he introduced himself as “the congressman from Hazzard County.”

And with a thick, back-country drawl he offered a simple message about Edwards: “He’s one of us, y’all.”

The Associated Press broke the story that Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas was dropping out of the 2008 Republican presidential contest, in part due to his troubles raising cash.

Brownback didn’t go down without a fight.

He was a frequent visitor to Iowa, the first caucus state. He had a well-honed message mixing family values with his call for major tax reform and a bipartisan, federalist solution to the instability in Iraq. He had an aggressive campaign operation that picked fights with rivals up and down the candidate “tiers.”

But he never caught on — as his 2 percent showing in the latest USA Today/Gallup poll suggested.

We had a good time chasing Brownback down the “Back Roads to the White House.”

We’ll remember his shooting spree in Ames, Iowa, when he invited journalists to watch him show off his love of the Second Amendment at a local rifle range.

And from that same appearance, we’ll remember his categorical denial when O. Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa asked him, point-blank, if he had anything to do with the costumed “varmint” that was stalking former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to campaign events. In hindsight, the collective press corps was kicking itself for not asking him about “Flipper,” the fuzzy porpoise chasing Romney, or the costumed “convict” stalking one of Brownback’s ideological rivals, former Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Just a few days before his departure, Brownback drew one of the biggest media contingents of the campaign when he and Sen. Joe Biden, a Democratic contender, held a rare, bipartisan campaign stop in Des Moines to promote their plan to split Iraq into semi-autonomous regions under a weaker federal government.

They suffered countless “odd couple” references, and before a press conference ended, Biden wanted to make one thing perfectly clear.

Since they disagree on so many other issues, “Neither one of us would fit in the other’s administration.”

On the morning after the Colorado Rockies won the National League Championship, we rolled through Denver to see how the celebration was going. But let’s just say that in Denver, Iowa, the “Purple Tuesday” festivities were a bit more subdued than they were in LoDo, Colo.

Turns out that this Denver is the “Cleanest Little City in Iowa.” So we checked out the Denver Mill, stopped at the post office, sped past a street where there were (count ’em) three barber shops and then got back on the back roads.

Read daily dispatches from the “Back Roads to the White House” at: