"The close connection between African evangelical churches and American evangelical churches has increased the awareness of American evangelicals of the problems of Africa," said Timothy Shah, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
From dealing with the spread of AIDS to the short prom dresses problems of hunger and poverty, American religious conservatives are increasingly active in Africa. World Vision, the largest American aid group with an international orientation, is an evangelical group. The National Association of Evangelicals supports debt-relief efforts for African nations.
Rick Warren, the best-selling author of "The Purpose-Driven Life" and the senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of the largest evangelical churches in the United States, has made fighting the ills of Africa a major focus of his ministry.
Brownback, more than any American politician at Plus Size Dresses level and ambition, understands the tie between Africa and American evangelicals and is in a position to benefit from it, Shah and others said.
Chuck Hurley, the president of the Iowa Family Policy Center and an old friend of Brownback’s, recalled that the senator once spoke forcefully of the plight of developing nations during an appearance in Iowa.
"It resonated," Hurley said. "It was a sigh of, `Yes, somebody in high position, somebody running for president, is articulating this heartfelt passion.’ ... It goes to the core of who we are."
Experts estimate that 20 to 25 percent of the Iowans Black Prom Dresses are likely to attend Republican caucuses in 2008 will be Christian conservatives.
Brownback’s interest in Africa also could help him reach beyond his allies among religious and social conservatives. Liberal New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has lauded the senator’s work on Africa several times.
Jeffrey D. Sachs, the prominent development economist and author of "The End of Poverty," praised Brownback in an e-mail interview.
"He has taken leadership to get malaria on to the global agenda," Sachs wrote. "This summer he played a very helpful role in getting the (Bush) administration to commit to a new malaria control effort, albeit one that is still underfunded."
Said Hertzke, the University of Oklahoma professor, "Blue Prom Dresses international work softens him to those outside the evangelical world. It makes him more appealing, more ecumenical."
Brownback, who counts abolitionist John Brown and humanitarian Mother Teresa among his inspirations, said the potential political benefits weren’t the reasons for his Africa work; historically, he pointed out, foreign aid hasn’t been a political winner.