Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Scott Kleeb: "I Can't Do This Alone"

by Kyle Michaelis
With the national spotlight turning to Nebraska's Third District, Monday was perhaps the most exciting day yet in Scott Kleeb's campaign for Congress - as word broke of an internal poll showing Kleeb with a 6-point advantage over his opponent Adrian Smith (46-40%). At the same time, Lincoln Journal-Star political writer Don Walton alluded to a mysterious, undisclosed Republican poll with results that must have been similarly distressing to Smith:
The GOP fears it may be about to lose a “safe” House seat in eight days.

The decision to be a player in the western and central Nebraska district follows GOP polling....No one is sharing results from the Republican poll, but it’s clear they were sufficiently alarming for the GOP to send in the cavalry with TV ads attacking Kleeb....

In the waning days of this battle, now the marquee race in Nebraska, the anti-tax Club for Growth also has dispatched a new bundle of funding into the state to help Smith.

With the out-of-state, anti-farm program Club for Growth having already spent almost half-a-million dollars in this race, you'd think they would have helped Smith enough.

Every penny the Club for Growth contributes has cost Smith credibility in the eyes of Third District voters. And, with his borderline embarrassing record as a state senator, Smith really didn't have much credibility to begin with.

If the Club for Growth's money is good for anything, though, it will be in unleashing one of the most concentrated and hastily drawn negative campaigns this state has ever seen. In the 2004 Republican primary for Nebraska's First District seat, the one bit of success the Club for Growth managed was in destroying State Sen. Curt Bromm's chances for election. They will no doubt try the same underhanded, say-anything tactics to defeat Kleeb.

Of course, 2006 is not 2004 - especially since the onslaught of negativity in Nebraska's Senate race has left voters hungry for a candidate with Kleeb's positive vision, hopeful message, and unmistakable passion. The Club for Growth, though, isn't going to understand that because - other than writing fat checks - it has no connection to the people of Nebraska. And, in Adrian Smith's desperation, when he's proven his own inability to connect with voters, he's likely to welcome any attack on Kleeb - no matter how dirty, no matter how cheap, no matter how offensive to voters' sensibilities - as his best chance at salvaging a victory.

And the Club for Growth isn't alone in doing Smith's dirty work. With the national Republican Party, it's estimated that 350 thousand dollars will be spent on the unprecedented attacks on Kleeb in this last week before the election.

With odds like that, one might almost be inclined to lose heart, except I've personally had the opportunity to travel the Third District and talk to voters twice in the last week - Democrats and Republicans - and I've seen the incredible support that exists for Kleeb first-hand. More importantly, I saw Kleeb speak to an excited audience of more than 65 people in Crete, NE last night....and this is a candidate who's not wilting in the spotlight and certainly not backing down from the challenge that still remains.

Against the combined forces of the Club for Growth and Adrian Smith, Kleeb's message is very simple: "I can't do this alone. And, I don't want to do this alone."

Scott Kleeb can win this race. With your help, Scott Kleeb will win this race. Not as the Democrat. Not because of his looks. Not because he's a bullrider or a PhD. No, Kleeb will win because his is the voice the Third District needs - he is the candidate who will fight on their behalf - not the special interests' - in Washington D.C.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has declared their intention to go on the offensive in the Third District (1, 2, 3). At first, I wondered if that wasn't a diversionary tactic - a head fake to keep Smith and the Club for Growth guessing - since any ad paid for by the D in this race runs the risk of undermining the independence that has gotten Kleeb this close to victory.

Regardless, the DCCC isn't going to be as much help to Kleeb as you and I can be right here in Nebraska. Give what you can. Talk to everyone you know. If you've been thinking of taking an autumn trip through the Sandhills, do it this weekend and put in a few hours knocking doors for Kleeb's campaign.

There are important races all over the state, but - in Scott Kleeb - we have the opportunity to be part of something truly special. And, I'm not talking about the Democratic Party's takeover of the House. I'm talking about a new day and a new idea for Nebraska's Third District, which - in turn - could pave the way for a new idea of Nebraska itself. Perhaps even rural America.

That's the kind of leader Kleeb is poised to become. That's the sort of representative we stand poised to gain. Please do what you can.

There are 7 days remaining....

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Monday, October 30, 2006

"Putting Nebraska First": The Case FOR Ben Nelson's Re-election

by Kyle Michaelis
The following is a repost from early February (preceding the wonderful, tone-setting "Nebraska First" ad campaign). There have been many months, much campaign ugliness, and even some deeply troubling votes in the United States Senate since this post was written, but what I wrote then stands to this day and will guide my vote on Election Day.

Sen. Ben Nelson officially declared his candidacy for re-election yesterday. Thank God because Nebraska needs him. I write that without reservation and without relying on the absolutely horrifying Republican alternative....

No, this isn't about the lesser of two evils. This is about what's best for Nebraska and the nation. There is no doubt about it - Ben Nelson is a good fit for Nebraska voters. The people know him and respect him. In 1994, he won re-election as governor by one of the widest margins in Nebraska history. That he has been able to translate that popularity into national politics...is not particularly suprising and speaks to the trust and faith Nelson has earned with voters.

Few will admit it, but - in many ways - the Nebraska Democratic Party is lucky to have such a standard bearer.....

On so many...issues and simply as a matter of maintaining a functional U.S. Senate, Nelson has proven himself indispensable. He is an important voice in the Democratic Party and an important bridge with midwestern and socially-conservative blue-collar voters who need to be reminded that the Democratic Party not only has a place for them but is, in fact, their natural home on the issues that matter most.

The common refrain about Sen. Nelson is that he puts Nebraska before the Democratic Party - the people before politics. Although certain to result in more frustrations and the occasional disappointment, Nebraska Democrats are asked to make much the same choice by volunteering, voting, and - yes - fighting for Nelson in 2006.

Is he a "good" Democrat? Is he a "real" Democrat? Who, honestly, can say? But I can say, without hesitation, that Nelson has been a great representative of the people of Nebraska.

Some might question whether representing the people really amounts to leadership, but I think the vital, concurrent role Nelson has played (and will continue to play) in bridging this nation's perilous partisan divide should put any such questions to rest. In fact, the country might need Nelson as a voice of compromise, common sense, and partisan restraint every bit as much as we do in Nebraska.

Those able to recognize this and support Nelson to the fullest extent their energy and passion allow are doing more than being pragmatic and practical. This is a choice of principle - in the truest Democratic sense - that puts aside our respective political laundry lists and whatever grudges may from there result in favor of what's best - when the stakes are so very high - for our neighbors, our nation, and Nebraska....

The virtue of democracy does not lie in its ease of use. Democracy does not lend itself to self-indulgence. To reduce it to a clash of ideologies is absurd, if not suicidal as a free society. Politics must be about getting things done and making peoples’ lives better – ideology can not get in the way of that, our highest priority.

To put it in simplest terms, democracy is always a matter of choices. In 2006, in Nebraska, there will be no better choice on the ballot than Sen. Ben Nelson. No one else will have his experience. No one else will have his common touch. What more, as reasonable citizens and responsible voters, do we really need to know before answering the call to do what we can and what we must to see Nelson win a second term?

He is the only politician in the state who can make a straight-faced claim to represent all Nebraskans. Those who would see that as a weakness must ask themselves what this thing called democracy is really all about.
When I had the incredible opportunity to speak with Sen. Barack Obama this spring, he hailed Nelson for his bipartisan, results-oriented approach to politics, while insisting that "every Democrat has a strong interest in re-electing Ben Nelson."

I feel confident going even further and declaring that every Nebraskan has a strong interest in electing Ben Nelson to a second term representing us with honor and distinction in the U.S. Senate. I expect readers and voters to make the same principled, common sense decision on November 7th.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

"NO" on 423: The Most Important Vote of this Election

by Kyle Michaelis

The most important vote on the November ballot is, without a doubt, the proposed spending lid amendment. Nebraska must reject this dangerous and inflexible political quackery.

The New Nebraska Network can't help but thank retired Omaha World-Herald editor Harold W. Andersen for using his still-prominent columns these last several weeks to effectively draw attention to the out-of-state ideologues who've hijacked Nebraska's petition process, treating the state as a laboratory for their failed experiment in anti-government extremism.

Without any stake of their own in the well-being of the state, New York's Howard Rich & his cohorts in the Illinois-based Americans for Limited Governement and the Montana-front organization America At Its Best have recklessly endangered the prosperity of our state and the futures of its young and elderly.

Meanwhile, NNN remains disappointed (though unsurprised) at the continued lack of leadership from Gov. Dave Heineman on this all-important issue. Heineman clearly believes he has political capital to spend heading into Election Day. Rather than using the goodwill and trust of voters to lead the charge against the Spending Lid scheme/scam, he has instead wasted his undeserved influence on purely partisan support of Senate candidate Pete Ricketts (via robo-calls & radio ads) and a potentially meaningless vote on the fate of elementary-only school districts.

Two weeks ago, I took issue with Heineman's joining a rally in defense of Class I schools because it so paled in importance to the spending lid. Since then, he has dispatched Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy in the same effort while doing absolutely nothing to defeat 423.

If the Spending Lid should pass, Heineman deserves the scorn of future generations for the havoc and suffering he did so little to prevent, offering nothing but pithy opposition to an idea that would turn Nebraska's budgeting process into a bloody and cannibalistic nightmare.

Contrast Heineman's actions with those of the Governors of Oregon and Montana, where similar measures are on the ballot thanks to the machinations of Howard Rich & Co. In those states, both Governors have personally called-out Rich, challenging him to debate them on the merits of his proposal and the disastrous effect it would have on the citizens to whom they must actually answer. Rich, with no ties to either state, of course rejected both requests and will not speak publicly about the millions of dollars he's flooded into their states.

The AP quotes:
"It is unacceptable that the big-money, national anti-government extremists would use our state as a testing ground for their agenda," said Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, warning that approval of the measure would mean cutbacks to education, social services and law enforcement.

Nebraska's Heineman, on the other hand, has expressed no outrage at Rich's out-of-state manipulation and has only meekly questioned the constraints such measure would place on state government. As he told the Lincoln Journal-Star last weekend:
“Right issue, right message, wrong mechanism,” the governor says.....

Lid or no lid, you’re going to see a very tight-fisted budget from me next year,” Heineman pledges.

My God, does he even oppose 423? Does he care about the future of this state at all? Or, as per Heineman's "weathervane" reputation, was this just a political calculation to prevent Union support from breaking to his more principled and outspoken opponent, David Hahn?

Regardless of Heineman's disgraceful lack of leadership, I trust the common sense voters of this state will see through the false promise of the Spending Lid and just say NO to 423.


According to the Omaha World-Herald, the Montana-based front that's officially backing the Spending lid in our state, America At Its Best, may be liable for a $140,000 penalty for late filing of its June spending report. Although the penalty would, indeed, be a harsh one, I am glad Nebraska's Accountability and Disclosure Commission are enforcing the law to the fullest extent possible.

An out-of-state interest that can spend almost 2 million dollars manipulating our petition process should be expected to know and respect our laws even if they don't respect the fundamental principles of democracy for and by the people, intead relying on democracy by the dollar.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Smith v. Kleeb on the Editorial Page

by Kyle Michaelis
Third District Congrssional candidate Adrian Smith's heart must have leapt today when he found out the Grand Island Independent had given him its endorsement. It was immediately splashed on the front page of his website, probably in hopes that the editorial would offer some cover from the vicious and unyielding derision he suffered at the hands of the Omaha World-Herald.

Still, by any reasonable standard, the Independent's endorsement of Smith is hardly anything of the sort. As proof of just how little good there is to be said of Smith and his record, the Independent devotes only 3 sentences to its preferred candidate, while devoting 8 paragraphs to "enigmatic political prodigy" Scott Kleeb.

From the balance of the editorial, the Independent (in name only) couldn't quite bring itself to admit what retired North Platte Telgraph editor Keith Blackledge stated in no uncertain terms. Known as "the voice of Western Nebraska", Blackledge wrote this weekend of the contest between Smith and Kleeb:
As a lifelong Republican, I can think of at least two good reasons to vote for Scott Kleeb, the Democratic candidate for Third District Congress, on November 7.

He's the best candidate by a Sandhills country mile.

If he turns out to be a disappointment, he will be out of there in two years.

Blackledge then reiterates what the World-Herald had stated of Smith:
In the Legislature, Smith is not known as a skilled lawmaker. He is not known for an ability to build constructive coalitions for complicated legislation. He is not known as a skilled public speaker. He has no reputation for making substantive issues the subjects for his priority bills. He is not a lawmaker whom backers seek out to be the prime sponsor of major legislation. He is not known as a leader.

Who could ever get sick of a brutal verbal beating like that? Although the Independent grounds its tepid support of Smith in his supposed commitment and values, the paper offers absolutely nothing in defense of his horrible record as a state senator. After eight years in the legislature, even Smith's supporters can only manage three sentences in his favor.

Blackledge said it best - Kleeb has Smith beat "by a Sandhills country mile." And, everyone knows it....even if they're not willing to admit it because of the D next to his name.

Hopefully, for their own sake, voters will show more sense than that. They don't have to be independent to vote for Kleeb. They just have to be paying attention.

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Adrian Smith & Jerry Falwell's America

by Kyle Michaelis
I would not dream of calling Adrian Smith an Anti-Catholic bigot. Still, his ties to Jerry Falwell and Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA raise some serious questions about what beliefs attracted Smith to first enroll there as a college undergraduate. These questions are made especially relevant by Smith's decision to hold a campaign rally on Liberty University's campus, demonstrating continued commitment to Falwell and his extremist ideology.

LU's student newspaper, The Champion, reports:
Dressed sharply in a blue suit, Nebraska state Senator Adrian Smith seems to be the all-American guy, born and raised in Gering, Neb., a town of about 7,800 residents. He came to Liberty in 1989 and spent three semesters at LU before transferring to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is the first former Liberty student to make a run for the United States House of Representatives.

Sunday, Sept. 17, Smith and his staff held a rally..., inviting people from campus and Thomas Road to meet the man who is in the race for a seat in the House.

Dr. Ron Godwin, head of the Helms School of Government, was on hand to introduce Smith. Godwin described him as a “pioneer, a pathfinder for many, many more leaders like him in the days ahead”….

As a high school senior, Smith came to Liberty for College for a Weekend. Though he had never lived in Virginia before, he made the step to attend college at Liberty...After his first year, he had a desire to work in his state government, but in order to become a page in local legislature, students had to attend college in Nebraska.

Pastor Jonathan Falwell also lauded Smith for his track record and his stance on important and controversial issues.

“That’s the kind of person we need in congress,” he said. “We need people who stand up and say ‘this is what I believe’ and will fight for what they believe.”

He also said his father, Chancellor Jerry Falwell, had the desire to “affect the culture” and that “one day, he wanted to send a Liberty student to congress.”

“I hope to be in the House for a good long time,” Smith said before the gathering. “I want to get elected and stay there until retirement.

Jonathan Falwell, generally considered the heir to his father's ministry, has donated almost $2,000 to Smith's campaign. Fair enough - Scott Kleeb has received donations from friends and colleagues from school as well. Still, what's actually troubling about the above article (aside from the fact that Smith's only aspiration is to be a politician for the rest of his life) is the possibility that a Smith victory would advance Falwell's diseased idea of America.

Although Jerry Falwell has toned down his Anti-Catholic teachings since recognizing the Catholic vote's political potential and how it might be exploited to fit his ends, he has nevertheless continued to earn his reputation as a corrupt "Agent of Intolerance," as he was so famously described by Republican Sen. John McCain in 2000. Some of Falwell's more shameful moments include:
*In a collection of Falwell's sermons published in 1979, it reads "I hope to live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!"

*In October 1987, the Federal Election Commission fined Falwell $6,000 for transferring $6.7 million in funds intended for his ministry to political committees.

*In 1994, Falwell used his "Old Time Gospel Hour" to sell a video called "The Clinton Chronicles" that made a number of unsubstantiated charges against President Bill Clinton - among them that he was a drug addict and that he arranged the murders of political enemies in Arkansas. Despite claims he had no ties to the project, evidence surfaced that Falwell helped bankroll the venture with $200,000.

*In June 1997, Falwell announced a plan to urge fundamentalist churches to intervene in partisan politics. He vowed to send sample candidate endorsement sermons that pastors could read in their churches.

*In November 1997, Falwell accepted $3.5 million from a front group representing controversial Korean evangelist Sun Myung Moon to ease Liberty University's financial woes ($40 million in debt). The donation, and several Falwell appearances at Moon conferences, raised eyebrows because Moon claims to be the messiah...In 1978, before the Moon money started flowing, Falwell told Esquire magazine, "Reverend Sun Myung Moon is like the plague: he exploits boys and girls, and he should be exported."

*In January 1999, Falwell told a pastors' conference in Kingsport, Tenn., that the Antichrist prophesied in the Bible is alive today and "of course he'll be Jewish."

*In February 1999, Falwell issued a "parents alert" warning that Tinky Winky, a character on the popular PBS children's show `"Teletubbies," might be gay.

*Responding to the terrorist attack on 9/11/2001, Falwell stated, "God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve."

It would be unfair to hold Adrian Smith accountable for Falwell's obnoxious statements and misdeeds over the years, but it's troubling that Smith has made no effort to disavow Falwell's most extremist and intolerant tendencies.

At one point in his career, Falwell was so vehemently (and openly) anti-Catholic that he would not share a stage with a priest. This legacy, though now more subdued, continues at Liberty University and perhaps even in the heart of Adrian Smith.

It's no accident that co-author of the best-selling apocalypic Left Behind books Tim LaHaye has donated millions of dollars to the school. Lahaye's Left Behind series, of course, features the Roman Catholic Church as an instrument of the Anti-Christ. LaHaye, who's been in league with Falwell for decades, was also once forced to resign from Jack Kemp's presidential campaign for calling Roman Catholocism "a false religion." And, throughout the 1970s, his church sponsored an anti-Catholic group called Mission to Catholics that printed materials calling Pope Paul VI an "archpriest of Satan, a deceiver, and an antichrist."

Now, the Liberty University hockey team plays at the LaHaye Ice Center, while students work out at the LaHaye Student Center, relax in the LaHaye Lounge, and even take classes in the so-called LaHaye School of Prophecy, which teaches End Times theology.

More outspoken than Falwell, LaHaye's own vision for America includes:
A Religious Right utopia where there is no separation of church and state. Abortion is outlawed and homosexuality is lumped in with pedophilia and prostitution as "perverse sexual practices" that are "universally viewed as immoral and would be shunned." Censorship is rampant as the "Christian and pro-moral community" use the federal government to promulgate "decency" codes.....

Public schools are turned into centers for fundamentalist indoctrination with daily prayer, promotion of the Ten Commandments and creationism firmly ensconced. The Department of Education has been abolished, and teenagers are given no sex education at school.

Adrian Smith actually found ideas such as these attractive? This is the environment in which he felt at home? This is where he actually chose to go to college?

Beyond the religious and political fringe, Falwell and Liberty University have also shown outright hostility to non-white Americans, naming LU's School of Government after Sen. Jesse Helms, one of the most notorious race-baiting politicians of the 20th century.

Finally, for a telling illustration of Liberty University's campus climate - and more about Adrian Smith than we probably want to know - look at the school's student code of conduct, which prohibits viewing R-rated movies (12 reprimands/$50 fine), attending a dance (6 reprimands/$25 fine), and participating in an unauthorized petition or demonstration (12 reprimands/$50 fine). Just possessing alcohol or spending the night with a person of the opposite sex are punishable by 30 reprimands, a $500 fine, 30 hours of Community Service, and possible expulsion.

And, now, Falwell and the entire school are looking to Adrian Smith as their foothold in Congress - their "pathfinder" - the first of many who will remake America into something decidedly un-American. I don't know about you, but - this Halloween season - that might be the scariest idea of all.

If looking for another reason to make one final donation to Scott Kleeb's campaign, I think you've just found it.

Intolerance. Anti-Catholicism. Jesse Helms. The death of public eduacation. Limits on free speech. Those are not the values of Nebraska's Third District voters - who are largely common sense conservatives, not Falwell-style extremists.

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Friends With Benefits - Ricketts Buys Hagel a Bounce

by Kyle Michaelis
Pete Ricketts' $12 million investment in his Senate campaign has finally paid off - not for Ricketts, but for Sen. Chuck Hagel. As Ricketts' campaign continues to crash & burn with each successive step - most recently, attacking a Nebraska company with baseless accusations in a misguided attempt to smear Sen. Ben Nelson - it seems reasonable to assume that Ricketts is hurting Republican candidates across the board by alienating their base and possibly annoying voters enough to stay home on Election Day.

The only man who's stood to gain from Ricketts' relentless negativity and destructive desperation has been Hagel, who doesn't have to share a ballot with him on Nov. 7th. As I wrote on Oct. 10th, Chuck Hagel is cashing-in while he can:
Watch Hagel's supposed endorsement of Ricketts. The ad isn't even about Ricketts. It's about Chuck Hagel. On the surface, Hagel says the unseen Ricketts has "character and courage" and voters are expected to take his word for it though they've seen neither from Ricketts throughout the campaign. Voters were never going to fall for that.

Hagel, however, stands to benefit because his talking about "character and courage" - on Pete Ricketts' dime - serves as a nifty reminder of his well-cultivated persona. Sure, it might be baseless and absurd to claim Ricketts has these qualities, but Hagel's talking about them reinforces the idea that he has them himself.

Proof that Hagel's front-and-center free advertising worked to his advantage can be seen in the latest SurveyUSA monthly tracking poll giving him his highest marks with Nebraska voters since August of 2005. Coming in with an Oct. approval rating of 60%, Hagel gained a full 5% points over his 55% rating the preceding three months. This bump has been especially pronounced amongst Republican voters, giving creedence to my additional theory that Hagel stood to gain from endorsing Ricketts because:
With many Nebraska Republicans resentful of Hagel's Sunday morning criticism of President Bush and the occupation of Iraq, it can't hurt for Hagel to play the loyal footsoldier for the folks back home in an effort to boost his standing.

Sure enough, Hagel's seen a 6% bounce with Republicans since last month - having gained a full 9% points since July.

In a very minor - almost embarrassing - coup for Hagel, this is the first time he's scored higher with Republican voters than Senate counterpart Nelson in 15 months. Still, with all the orchestrated attacks and millions of dollars worth of negativity against Nelson, Nelson managed to score just 4% lower than Hagel with a Republican approval rating of 56%.

With the full range of Nebraska voters, though, Nelson continued his long-standing dominance over Hagel with a still-impressive statewide approval rating of 64% . Even amidst one of the ugliest political campaigns in Nebraska history, Nelson maintains a place tied for 13th most popular Senator in the country.

By that same standard, the high-flying Hagel would be in a six-way tie for 29th. Not bad, but - having used Ricketts to throw everything and the kitchen sink at his supposed arch-nemesis - Hagel has to be disheartened that this was the best he could do.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Lee Terry: The Times They Are A-Changin'

by Kyle Michaelis
Not only has Nebraska's 2nd District Congressman Lee Terry broken GOP protocol by acknowledging the very real possibility that the Democratic Party will take the House on November 7th, he's even trying to use that to his advantage by touting a newfound ability to work across party lines.

In an article focused largely on Terry's weak political standing, the Omaha World-Herald reports:
Terry generally is viewed as less of an ideologue and more of a moderate who Democrats can work with...That could be important if he holds onto his seat but Democrats take control of the House....

Terry agreed that his willingness to work with Democrats on some issues would be a boon if the Democrats do win the House Nov. 7. He said he's proven he can work with those from the other party, and if control changes, "Instead of wanting to do that, I'd have to do that."

This is a new one from Terry. It says a lot about the political climate in 2006 that Terry, in seeking his fifth term, is running on his supposed ability to work with Democrats rather than his record of voting the party line 94% of the time.

One could interpret Terry's new message as an appeal to Democratic voters, recognizing they are more charged up heading into Election Day and might give challenger Jim Esch a surprising boost at the polls. More likely, though, Terry's just saving face, trying to show that he could still acquire the influence and respect of his colleagues that has generally eluded him throughout his first eight years in Congress.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Wacko Wing of the Republican Party Rallies Around Adrian Smith

by Kyle Michaelis
If Adrian Smith is to be judged by the company he keeps, Nebraska's Third District voters should be very wary of who he'd really represent in Congress. Besides his hundreds of thousands of dollars in support from the extremist, anti-government, anti-farm assistance Club for Growth, Smith has essentially sworn allegiance to the most reactionary and irresponsible wing of the Republican Party. Nowhere is this more evident than in the fact that, yesterday, Smith brought notorious nut-job Steve King of Iowa to Nebraska to campaign on his behalf.

The Omaha World-Herald reports:
Sen. Chuck Hagel and other top Republicans are lending their help to State Sen. Adrian Smith in his bid to succeed Rep. Tom Osborne....

"We're in a neck-and-neck race in a district with a sizable Republican majority," said Kleeb spokesman Ben Lumpkin. "We think voters will still vote for the best candidate, regardless of party"....

Smith, a two-term state senator, has hosted several campaign appearances by prominent GOP leaders, including Vice President Dick Cheney and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

That continued Monday, as Smith toured Columbus with Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa. He will be joined Wednesday by Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., and next Monday by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee....

Lumpkin said Kleeb's campaign has taken a different tack from Smith's, focusing on "grass-roots" and door-to-door efforts rather than appearances by members of Congress.

He said the number of Republicans appearing with Smith indicates the GOP is nervous about the race.

The number of Republicans appearing with Smith does indicate nervousness about his chances, but it's the type who are supporting Smith that should make all voters nervous. Among Congressman Steve King's most notorious statements and actions are the following:
*Steve King supports the Consumption Tax that is estimated to raise taxes on 90% of Americans - Adrian Smith has gone out of his way to avoid taking a position on the issue.

*Steve King called one of the most distasteful characters in American history, disgraced Sen. Joe McCarthy, "a great American hero," although the hearings he conducted in the 1950s are remembered as one of the darkest times for American democracy and ended in McCarthy's censure by Congress.

*Steve King has called labor unions "economic weapons of mass destruction."

*Steve King dismissed the shameful torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib as "hazing."

*While thousands of Iraqi civilians are murdered each and every month, Steve King declared people are "at far greater risk" in Washington D.C.

*Steve King said of Iraq this year: "Every single mission we’ve set out to do in Iraq has been successful."

*No suprise, the Club for Growth and its members gave Steve King's 2002 campaign for Congress more than $150,000.

*The Des Moines register published an editorial aptly titled "Spare us more embarrassment: Replace King."

That Adrian Smith would ally himself with so dangerous and out-of-touch a Congressman as Steve King does not surprise. Although King is more outspoken and flamboyant, Smith clearly patterns himself in the same extremist mold on the issues.

Steve King and Adrian Smith may be Republicans, but - thankfully - they do not represent the average Republican voter who is conservative but who also lives in reality. Nebraska's Third District has to do better than this. They must spare themselves and their country any further embarrassment.

Lucky for all of us, they can do just that by electing Scott Kleeb to Congress.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Dave Heineman: 100% Pure Politician

by Kyle Michaelis
The Lincoln Journal-Star's candidate profile:
Dave Heineman
Age: 58
Occupation: Governor...
Internet viewing: Nebraska media sites daily, Washington Post occasionally, political surfing.
Sports: Golf with son.....
TV viewing: “Not much,” mostly news and sporting events.
Musical preference: Patriotic songs.

I don't think anyone puts too much stock in candidate profiles and their election year publication of candidates' personal favorites. Still, they are a traditional feature of the campaign season that allow some glimpse beyond the politician, to the candidate as an actual person.

But, my God, when a person lists "patriotic songs" as their favorite music, you have to wonder - is this guy even human?

In general, I can't imagine letting a candidate's favorite color or favorite movie influence ones vote. These questions aren't important. But, really, is it asking too much for some reassurance - a little bit of evidence - that the man on the ballot is an honest-to-goodness, flesh and blood human being?

Now, don't get me wrong, I have no problem with "patriotic songs." I'm a 4th of July kind of guy who enjoys singing along to "The Star-Spangled Banner" at sporting events.

But, come on? Your musical preference?

This is one of the lamest and most absolutely blah things I've ever heard. It's the very definition of the safe answer that couldn't possibly offend anyone. And, what could be more offensive than that?

Since taking office, Dave Heineman's every move has consisted of self-serving, political pandering. This is certainly the most trivial of such examples, but - in its own way - that makes it even more despicable.

The LJS profile also notes of Heineman:
“He said he wanted to be governor when we married,” says Sally Ganem, Nebraska’s First Lady. “He always wanted to be in public service.”

Trust me, Madam First Lady, we can tell. But, let's not insult "public service." Dave Heineman always wanted to be a politician, and - for better or worse - that's precisely what he's become.

Sadly, that's all he's become. At least, if we're to accept this empty, soulless public persona on its face.

With all the money Heineman has taken from mostly lobbyists, special interest groups, and PACs (approaching $2.5 million), couldn't he have afforded one more poll that would tell him what kind of music it was okay to like. I mean, seriously - "patriotic songs"? Get real!

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Pete Ricketts Says Chuck Hagel Should Shut-Up

by Kyle Michaelis
This Pete Ricketts character is some piece of work. This week, he criticized Sen. Chuck Hagel for speaking out against the war in Iraq and promised he’d do a better job of being a loyal Republican lapdog to President George W. Bush. I wonder if this unquestioning partisanship is what Hagel had in mind when talking about Ricketts’ “courage”?

The Chadron Record reports:
United States Senate candidate Pete Ricketts was in Chadron Monday for a meet and greet at Angela’s Eatery....

A comment was made about Neb. Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican, and how he has spoken out against President Bush and the war in Iraq. Ricketts defended Hagel as a Republican stating that he had voted with the party 95 percent of the time...However he admonished Hagel’s actions on speaking against the president.

Stating you don’t argue “on the shop floor,” Ricketts quoted his mother’s advice, “I don’t want you fighting in the house. But if you’re going to fight, do it in the house. Because when you leave the house we’re a family.”

Ricketts said that he would not speak against President Bush, “especially during a time of war.”

Since when does “courage” entail holding your tongue and keeping your damn mouth shut? Got to give Ricketts credit, though, for mastering the art of political back-stabbing without even being elected to an office.

When Hagel is the only Senate Republican who’s shown any faith in Ricketts whatsoever, he’d probably expect a little more gratitude – maybe even some respect. Instead, Ricketts – despite mounting evidence of our failed strategy in Iraq (and a mounting death toll) - has decided to put protecting the bubble Bush inhabits ahead of asking questions and demanding accountability.

Not that Hagel probably minds. He knows how the game is played and doesn’t care what Ricketts says so long as he continues to spend millions of dollars attacking Ben Nelson.

It’s worth noting that when I personally asked Sen. Nelson at a forum earlier this year what he thought of Hagel’s criticism of the Iraq war, Nelson did not endorse but said that he respected Hagel’s comments and trusted they were made as a former soldier speaking out of conscience. Nelson's own style of doing what’s best for America's troops was different (showing less hunger for the spotlight), but he refrained from attacking Hagel’s motives or his integrity.

Meanwhile, this week, we have Hagel telling the Grand Island Independent:
Despite the rough environment for Republicans, Hagel said, Pete Ricketts can unseat incumbent Democrat Ben Nelson from his U.S. Senate seat....

He said Nelson, as an incumbent, "is part of the problem."

Hagel said that Nelson does not really stand for anything and is known as a person "who flip flops all over the place no matter what the issue is."

Nevermind that, by his own standard, Hagel would have to consider himself part of the problem as well.

It's just a pity to see that public service with honor and class are so one-sided in Nebraska’s Senate delegation. Hagel deserves what he gets from the desperate Ricketts’ attacks, but Nebraska deserves at least one Senator, like Ben Nelson, who respects his office and who cares about more than scoring political points.

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Believing in Nebraska - America Invests in Kleeb for Congress

by Kyle Michaelis
AMERICABlog flexed its might today, raising almost $10,000 from readers in 24 hours for Nebraska's own Scott Kleeb. By way of ActBlue and a link at the top of AMERICABlog's homepage, 230 readers gave an average of $42 a piece - in a single day, for a single candidate. That's pretty damn impressive - and quite an honor for Kleeb, as his campaign was the first to be targeted by AMERICABlog for such direct support.

As a Nebraska Democrat, this support from across the country is incredibly humbling. It's unlike anything we've ever before experienced. Of course, we have a great candidate in Kleeb, and he is well-deserving of the attention and excitement his campaign has generated of late. Now, it falls to us, though, to prove that Kleeb's candidacy is more than hype and that Nebraska's Third District truly is ready for change.

I've been skeptical about the national attention Kleeb's received, worried that the spotlight might blind us to the significant hurdles that still remain on Election Day. I've also worried that the attention, by itself, does no real good and only opens Kleeb to attack. But, with an investment like this in a better future for Nebraska and for rural America - from common people, not a special interest group - what this attention should probably be seen as is not a distraction but a challenge.

Kleeb has done his part by running the better campaign and being the better candidate. Along the way, he's shattered stereotypes and brought a message of hope for which rural Nebraskans have longed for decades. His message has been so effective that people have taken note nationwide of a race that, in years previous, wouldn't have received a second thought on the basis of demographics alone.

Yes, Kleeb is up for the challenge. He's earned the opportunity for victory, and - because people want to believe in change - they're willing to see that he gets it. What remains to be seen, however, is if the people of Nebraska - you & I - will meet the challenge as well.

As voters, as citizens, as activists: none can be complacent and none can afford to sit-out the fight before us.

America wants a change, and there are a lot of people who have faith that, with candidates like Kleeb, it can start right here in Nebraska. But, for that to happen, we Nebraskans have to believe as well. After years of political back-sliding, that may not be an easy thing to do. If we're ever going to make things better, though, there is no other way.

Others are counting on us. We have to give. We have to work. Most of all, we have to believe. That's what democracy is all about.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

"Can't Buy Me Love" - 56% Find Pete Ricketts Repulsive

by Kyle Michaelis
Rasmussen Reports have provided the only on-going public opinion polls on the Senate race between incumbent Sen. Ben Nelson and Republican challenger Pete Ricketts. Their figures have consistently shown and do continue to show Nelson with a 20% advantage over Ricketts - the free-spending, self-funded heir to his family's Ameritrade fortune.

What I've found most interesting about these polls, though, is not the head-to-head match-up but rather the curious trend noted previously (July, Aug, Sept) of Ricketts' continued decline in the esteem of voters. Although data from only four samplings may not qualify as statistically significant, the failure of Ricketts' campaign - by the numbers - has seemed to follow a quite simple formula. Since July, when voters' unfavorable opinion of Ricketts first reached 50%, a pattern has been established with each passing month of Ricketts putting approximately $2 million more into his message-free, attack-focused campaign while alienating another 2% of the voters he's supposed to be winning over.

In July, Ricketts had spent $6 million on his campaign. One month later, he'd thrown in another $2 million as his negative rating reached 52%. One more month and another $2 million later, that negative rating reached 54%. Well, guess what, the October numbers are in - probably the last poll before the election. Sure enough, Ricketts tossed in (burned?) another $2 million and, according to Rasmussen, has the following to show for it:
Fifty-six percent (56%) of voters report an unfavorable opinion of Ricketts with nearly one-third (31%) having a very unfavorable view...

All that for the low, low price of $12 million! What a steal!

Writing about Ricketts' most recent contribution last weekend, the Omaha World-Herald reported:
"Campaigns have become expensive, to be able to communicate your message to voters," Jessica Moenning, Ricketts' campaign manager, said Saturday. "We're just working hard to keep our message in front of the voters"....

She said she could not be sure that Ricketts had made his last contribution to his own campaign, but she suspected he had.

Ricketts and Moenning's supposed message has been "in front of the voters" for almost a year and Nebraska wants nothing of it. Still, in the last few weeks, we've only seen more negativity from this campaign and more mind-numbing attacks on Nelson. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Ricketts and Moenning seem to maintain belief that enough money and enough mud-slinging can still win this election.

Are they nuts?

Albert Einstein is credited with defining insanity as "doing the same thing and expecting different results." These last weeks of the campaign, that's exactly what Ricketts and Moenning are planning. And, the fact that Moenning even left the door open for Ricketts writing another multi-million dollar check to his campaign suggests their insanity truly has no limits.

I understand that Ricketts has plenty of money and doesn't need me worrying about his finances. But, for the good of Nebraska and for the good of its democracy, someone really should tell these folks to just give it up. To the majority of Nebraskans, Ricketts has become a joke - a cartoon, at best.

That's rather fitting, if you think about it.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Jim Esch Rocks

by Kyle Michaelis
2nd District Congressional candidate Jim Esch has run a scrappy and courageous campaign, fighting tooth and nail in his longshot challenge to four-term incumbent Lee Terry. Though a political newcomer, Esch has stepped up in a big way and has thrown himself into the race with a passion every candidate would do well to emulate.

Of course, some of Esch's commendable boldness on the campaign trail has something to do with the odds that he faces and the liberating aspect of low expectations. Esch's oft-mentioned refusal of PAC contributions certainly became a whole lot easier when the usual players showed little interest in taking a chance and making an investment in his bid for Congress.

Still, on issues ranging from the Iraq war and Donald Rumsfeld's job performance to energy policy and fiscal discipline by the federal government, Esch has been speaking with a refreshing forthrightness and fervor driven by more than just the desire for traction against Terry. He's been speaking the truth, holding nothing back and saying what needs to be said in a manner somewhat similar to Gubernatorial candidate David Hahn. From me, that's high praise, indeed...even if voters have not yet recognized the stakes and the opportunities they would be passing-up by sticking with the Republican status quo in either race.

Today, Esch met Terry in what was likely the only debate of the campaign. Readers may enjoy the comments shared at DailyKos by a pair of Esch supporters who attended the debate (1, 2) and declared it an absolute victory for Esch. Most people will never see the debate, though, and rely instead on reports like this one from the Associated Press, which paints the event as a much more balanced affair.

***4 am Update
Having viewed what's available of the debate online, I must concur that Esch was quite dominant in his performance. He's bright, well-spoken, articulate, and much more at ease than Terry.

I've been impressed by Esch's commitment since the start of the campaign, but this is by far the best demonstration I've seen of his political skill, which I know I'm not alone in having underestimated.

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Scott Kleeb's 'Daily Kos' Conundrum

by Kyle Michaelis
Will the support of the national Democratic Party and progressive blogs prove a liability for Kleeb's 3rd District Congressional campaign?

I'm going to assume that Nebraska's Third District Congressional race has made the RADAR of the national Republican Party and that they have turned their full attention to Adrian Smith's seemingly imploding campaign, hoping to salvage the seat despite Smith's weakness as a candidate. With that additional scrutiny, I'm also going to assume both the Republican Party and Smith's campaign are quite aware of the recent excitement generated and support garnered by Scott Kleeb from the online community, particularly the bloggers at the widely-trafficked DailyKos.

This raises an interesting question that I hope the Kleeb campaign has considered and to which I hope they have an answer should it become an issue. With Smith reeling from the continued focus on his ties to the out-of-state Club for Growth - whose $400,000 worth of influence are so clearly contrary to the interests of rural Nebraska - it would make sense for Smith to leap at the opportunity to portray Kleeb as being similarly compromised by ties to outsider special interest groups. In the specter of liberal bloggers, Smith might just believe he's found the way to make such a case.

On several occasions, Smith has attempted to undermine Kleeb in similar manner by suggesting that simply being a Democrat somehow meant he'd be taking orders from Howard Dean. Of course, this was an idiotic and plainly disingenuous argument, perverting the entire concept of Dean's so-called "50 State Strategy," which is founded on recruiting candidates with independence and a progressive message who will resonate with their constituents rather than fitting into a single, all-too-restrictive national model of what a Democrat should be.

Kleeb couldn't be further removed from the cookie-cutter definitions on which Smith relied. His blend of intellect and blue-collar work ethic with a cattle rancher's spirit of independence made Smith's desperate and pathetic attempt to paint Kleeb a Howard Dean clone ludicrous on its face. The attack was baseless and was routinely dismissed as such by both the media and Third District voters.

In the last 20 days of the campaign, though, it wouldn't surprise at all if Smith again goes on the attack against Kleeb, using his success and the national attention he's received against him. To be honest, I'm actually worried that such an attempt to make Kleeb a victim of his success might prove surprisingly effective.

Here are some samples of the excitement that's built-up around Kleeb's candidacy in just the first few weeks of October:

DKos: The Cowboy Candidate (w/candidate blogging)
DKos: Kleeb's New Ad
DKos: Kleeb's Impressive Endorsement
DKos and DCCC: San Francisco Fundraiser w/Paul Hackett
DCCC: Kleeb Joins Maxine Moul on List of 'Emerging Races' (Oct. 16th)

In the past, I've bemoaned bloggers for over-estimating their own influence. Perhaps I am now engaging in the same sort of delusion by imagining their support might actually prove a substantial liability for Kleeb. What truly worries me about the potential attack along these lines is that most voters in Nebraska's Third District probably have very little experience with blogs but are just aware enough of their existence to be susceptible to the idea that they are some powerful force of leftist propagandists using technology to invade their homes and to seize control of Congress.

A silly and far-fetched theory? Absolutely.

Last-ditch fodder for attack by a desperate Republican candidate who can't compete on the issues and can't talk about his embarrassing record in public service? Again, absolutely.

How could Smith resist? Especially when Kleeb himself participated in a DKos discussion and when a San Francisco (GASP!) fundraiser was held on his behalf. These facts invite manipulation by Smith's campaign tying Kleeb to any manner of random, insulting comment by anonymous bloggers, while also making a liability of the where and how Kleeb has gone about seeking financial support. In fact, Nancy Pelosi is probably due to arrive in Adrian Smith's campaign advertisements any day now.

In the most recent campaign funding report, Kleeb was very competitive with Smith financially (255 K to 318 K in cash on hand), but I can appreciate his campaign's taking advantage of these new channels to further balance the equation. I assume it's a tactical decision with an understanding of the needs on the ground. I just hope they've also taken the potential downside of this strategy into consideration as well.

I still like Kleeb's chances. But, I must say that a large part of me believes his campaign was best-positioned before the groundswell of national, online attention that erupted the last few weeks. In general, because of the make-up of the Third District, I can't help thinking that the farther off the national RADAR Kleeb was, the better off was his campaign. This race needed to generate attention and excitement from local activists, but the more that excitement has expanded beyond Nebraska's borders the more iffy a proposition it becomes with this state's traditionally nativist impulse.

When syndicated columnist Froma Harrop wrote about Kleeb this summer, Kleeb's candidacy remained a local story. He remained the secret weapon that could come out of nowhere to shock political observers with an election night victory in one of the most Republican districts in the country. The signs would have been there - the weak opponent, the mind-blowing potential, the nonpartisan tradition - but Kleeb was better served by all the dots remaining unconnected for as long as possible.

I just hope the money directed Kleeb's way from the DKos community and from those impressed by the DCCC establishment's supposed legitimization is enough to make the Kleeb campaign's loss of stealth worth it. There was a lot to be said for keeping a lid on things - remaining a true sleeper candidate with the potential to pull off an Election Day miracle.

If the goal is to hype the race and force Republicans to spend money and expend resources in Nebraska, someone is probably doing a fantastic job. If the goal is winning this seat, though, you have to wonder at the ultimate impact of the recent approach.

Many Democrats are relying on this being a national election to secure control of Congress. But, the more "national" the race in the Third District becomes, the more partisan its own dynamics become as well. In a district with the Third's demographics, such development is not at all in a Democratic candidate's favor, no matter how incompetent his opponent or how great a political tidal wave is in the forecast.

Geographically, Nebraska's Third District is as far from the ocean as any in the country. Metaphorically, I can't see any way even a tsunami of pro-Democratic fervor would reach its artificial shores. Although the national mood may loosen up voters to new possibilities, if Kleeb wins this race, it is going to be and was always going to be on the strength of his candidacy - particularly by comparison to his bumbling opponent.

Despite the Republican Party's many woes, the more this is perceived as a national race the more voters will be inclined to vote for their party rather than for the superior candidate (Kleeb) who would best serve their interests and represent their values.

DKos and the DCCC are nothing at all like the Club for Growth. They exact no price of the candidates they support and push no agenda that threatens the Third District's economy and its way of life. But, Adrian Smith - who won the Republican primary promising to "send the liberals a message" - is likely to do everything he can to erase those distinctions and to thereby make his own affiliation just slightly less egregious.

Who knows? Maybe all these concerns will prove entirely unjustified. Hopefully, there are more important issues that will dominate the last weeks of the campaign - independent of hypothetical liabilities with no obvious parallel in recent elections and no honest basis in anything but my excess-prone - perhaps downright paranoid - imagination.

The moment of truth is at hand. All shall be revealed. After the Omaha World-Herald's vicious mockery, the Smith campaign must be in full-on crisis mode. There's no telling what shape that desperation will take as the campaign moves into its final stages, but you can be certain that it will be ridiculous and that it won't be pretty.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bush's Approval in Nebraska: Still More Popular than Pete Ricketts

by Kyle Michaelis
The latest SurveyUSA tracking poll shows President George W. Bush taking a dive with Nebraska voters on the verge of the November 7th election. After seeing a slight bump last month that had Bush eke above 50% approval for the first time since April, the October numbers show 46% approving - with 52% disapproving - of Bush's job performance.

Although this can't be the trend Republicans would want to see at this point, they should take heart. At least Nebraska still favors President Bush over Senate challenger Pete Ricketts. And, that's with Ricketts spending a staggering, record-breaking $12 million of his family's multi-billion dollar fortune. Even with Bush's sinking numbers, more Nebraskans approve of him, and he hasn't spent a dime.

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Adrian Smith: The Hits Just Keep Coming

by Kyle Michaelis
With less than three weeks before the 2006 election, Adrian Smith's campaign is hurting and in trouble. Beyond Scott Kleeb's natural strengths and undeniable appeal, Smith has suffered for the twin offenses of compiling an unimpressive, undistinguished - some would even say embarrassing - record as a state senator while showing total disrespect for his would-be constituents and their interests by fueling his campaign with $400,000 from the extremist, anti-farm subsidies Club for Growth.

No doubt, the weakness of Smith's candidacy reached its nadir with this weekend's surprise endorsement of Kleeb by the ever-conservative Omaha World-Herald. Equal parts celebration of Kleeb and slap-in-the-face to Smith, the Omaha-World Herald wrote:
Scott Kleeb...stands out as the better choice. The reason: his fundamental strength - a strength of intellect, a strength of eloquence, a strength of stability.

When pressed aggressively, Kleeb's opponent, State Sen. Adrian Smith, falls back on sound bites and slogans. When pressed under the same conditions, Kleeb draws on different resources - mental focus, breadth of analytical ability and an unshakeable internal steadiness....

Far from being a wild-eyed liberal awkwardly out of step with his staunchly conservative district, Kleeb has spent this year advancing a practical agenda. His proposals can provide common ground across partisan and ideological lines....

It is said, understandably, that how Kleeb would do in Washington is largely an unknown. The same cannot be said of his opponent, Adrian Smith....

In the Legislature, Smith is not known as a skilled lawmaker. He is not known for an ability to build constructive coalitions for complicated legislation. He is not known as a skilled public speaker. He has no reputation for making substantive issues the subjects for his priority bills. He is not a lawmaker whom backers seek out to be the prime sponsor of major legislation.

He is not known as a leader.

That reality cannot be wished away, talked away or TV-commercialed away. And it is one of the primary considerations 3rd District voters should weigh as they consider whether Smith has the habits of mind and action necessary to serve with distinction in one of this country's most powerful political posts.

Smith, without question, is a sincere and conscientious advocate for the causes he supports - causes that in several cases receive strong endorsement by this newspaper. But in terms of qualifications, the 3rd District deserves more....

Scott Kleeb deserves election this year. If voters extend him that enormous privilege, from his strength, positive results could arise for the 3rd District. His potential should not be doubted.

It's understandable that Nebraska Democrats would be excited by this virtually unprecedented show of support from the state's most powerful and most influential media outlet. The World-Herald's endorsement of a non-incumbent Democrat for Congress is practically the Halley's Comet of Nebraska politics. Although the editorial speaks favorably of Kleeb's personal superiority as a candidate, one must keep in perspective the decades of instantly-dismissible opinions preceding it on that very page.

But, a blow to Smith is a blow to Smith...and the World-Herald's declaring him an unskilled lawmaker with a poor reputation and no real leadership skills to speak of is probably as big of a blow as the relatively toothless Nebraska media is capable.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Bob Kerrey Interview Online

by Kyle Michaelis

An online video podcast called American Microphone has a new interview with former U.S. Senator and Nebraska Governor Bob Kerrey. Kerrey shares his insights about the political mindset of Nebraska and Midwestern voters, while also discussing the Bush Administration's failures in conducting the Iraq war and enacting the reforms suggested by the 9/11 Commission on which he served.

The nearly hour-long interview is being advertised on several political blogs nationwide. Though not particularly mind-blowing, Kerrey impresses - as usual - with his intelligence and outspokeness. It's great to see one of Nebraska's favorite sons continue to lead on the most pressing issues facing the nation. Surely, fellow progressives will also be interested in what the honorable Mr. Kerrey has to say leading up to the November 7th election.

Enjoy and, by all means, feel free to discuss.

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Where is Heineman's Leadership Against Spending Lid?

by Kyle Michaelis
Gov. Dave Heineman went out of his way this weekend to show support for bogus efforts to reestablish elementary-only, Class I school districts in rural Nebraska. At the same time, he's done absolutely nothing to defeat the infinitely more dangerous spending lid amendment since voicing trivial, half-hearted opposition over two months ago. This reveals a calculated political strategy with no basis in principle and little concern for the long-term health of the state of Nebraska.

The Omaha World-Herald reports:
Supporters of Nebraska's former elementary-only school districts on Friday kicked off their campaign to repeal a school merger law with the backing of Gov. Dave Heineman and other elected officials.

Heineman said repeal of the law known as Legislative Bill 126 would require a strong grass-roots effort.

"We've got to convince several hundred thousand Nebraskans to go to the polls, vote for repeal, and then we'll go to work on the Legislature," he said.

The bill required the mostly small, mostly rural school districts to merge with K-12 districts. The mergers took effect June 15.

Supporters of the Class I districts collected enough signatures to put the repeal of LB 126 on the Nov. 7 ballot as Referendum 422.

However, they failed to collect enough signatures to stop the law from taking effect.

Heineman and others speaking at an afternoon workshop acknowledged that simply repealing the law will not re-establish the Class I districts.

But Heineman said a vote for repeal would send a loud message to the Legislature that Nebraskans want to give those schools a chance to be reconstituted. Heineman promised to work with lawmakers to get enabling legislation passed.

Understanding how important it is to the identity of smaller communities to hold-on to their schools, I have a hard time faulting those who've come to their defense. Both Heineman and his Democratic challenger David Hahn have voiced ardent support for efforts to restore those Class I school districts merged by LB 126. My own response is more mixed as conosolidation alone does not force the closing of any schools and because very serious questions do exist about the efficient use of tax dollars in providing undue support for those schools with the fewest students.

Still, the real distinction here between Heineman and Hahn is one of priorities. The question of what will ultimately happen with Class I school districts - which is entirely in the hands of the legislature and appears on the November ballot as little more than a straw poll - does not even come close to approaching the significance of the Spending Lid Amendment. Nor can they be divorced from one another.

That's why it says so much about Heineman's total lack of leadership that he'll speak out repeatedly for Referendum 422 - he'll even go to the radio with an endorsement of the cringe-worthy Pete Ricketts for Senate - but, on a ballot question that actually matters, a vote about far more than sending a message to the legislature, Heineman has stayed all but silent so as not to alienate the far-right and anti-government activists behind the Spending Lid proposal (Initiative 423).

Initiative 423 would reduce the state's chief executive to the role of chief executioner, overseeing the wholesale dismantling of the state's social services to meet the demands of a silly and inflexible formula. It would make ritual sacrifices of Nebraska's young, poor, elderly, and disabled. To this threat, Heineman remains silent, instead choosing to wage partisan warfare on behalf of Ricketts and making grandiose proclamations of meaningless support for Class I schools.

What a stark contrast Heineman poses with Hahn in this respect, with Hahn understanding that a true leader cannot always choose his battles and must sometimes make choices on principle as much as political expediency. Although Hahn's support for Class I schools is virtually indistinguishable from Heineman's, there is a world of difference in the leadership they've offered, with Hahn demonstrating the vision and capacity to understand that the spending lid is the far, far greater threat to our communities and to our system of education, even in those smallest communities affected by LB 126.

Initiative 423 would make it impossible for the state to restore support for Class I schools. The chief organization in support of Referendum 422, Class Ones United, has adopted the slogan "Take back control. Your kids. Your school. Your choice." Well, if they think they're being stripped of choices now, they should just imagine what kind of measures would be necessitated by passage of the spending lid. In fact, it's downright ludicrous to expend an ounce of energy to Class I's defense without backing it up with equal action on the offensive against the Spending Lid that would reduce every choice before state government to one of how to do the least damage.

Hahn understands that all these choices are tied together. He's consistent in his outspokenness and in his leadership. Heineman, on the other hand, thinks he can get by with token opposition to the Spending Lid despite its being far and away the most important question on the ballot.

The spending lid poses an even greater threat to the state than electing a spineless opportunist as Governor. And, in Heineman's case, that is truly saying something.

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Jeff Fortenberry on Iraq

by Kyle Michaelis
I hope to write more on this afternoon's second and final debate between Democratic challenger Maxine Moul and incumbent First District Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, but Fortenberry's position on Iraq was so mind-numbing and idiotic that it demanded immediate attention.

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
Fortenberry said the fact that America has remained free from terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001, is not due to wishful thinking or chance. Rather, the [Iraq] war has made progress, for example, in securing the safety in most of the country’s provinces. But with a battle for Baghdad currently being waged, pulling out now would create horrific chaos....

Former Lt. Gov. Moul tried to link Fortenberry with the president, saying empty rhetoric such as “staying the course” will not win the war in Iraq.

While she did not advocate an immediate troop withdrawal, she repeated a campaign theme of setting clear benchmarks to assess progress and decide when the United States must leave.

One candidate in touch with the reality that has seen over 60 U.S. soldiers killed in the first two weeks of October alone, as chaos already reigns supreme. The other candidate inhabiting a bubble so dense you'd expect it to be lined with lead.

That Fortenberry will still use 9/11 as a justification for the invasion of Iraq, suggesting that it has been a success at forestalling any further attacks, demonstrates a degree of self-delusion that would almost make one sad for Fortenberry if there weren't so many thousands who will continue to suffer and to die for his politically convenient fantasies.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Adrian Smith's Disappearing Act

by Kyle Michaelis
"The Threesome" - Schelske, Evans, and Smith at happier times

For months, 3rd District Congressional candidate Adrian Smith had dedicated an entire section of his website to his reception with country music star Sara Evans and her husband Craig Schelske. At www.joinadrian.com/sara.htm, Smith had photo after photo of himself, Evans, and Schelske posing with supporters and contributors who'd paid for the opportunity.

Well, today, that site has vanished, available only with the pictures removed thanks to the magic of Google.

Why would Smith remove this page? What could he possibly be hiding? Let me go out on a limb and guess that it has something to do with the following report from ABC News:
Country singer and "Dancing With the Stars" contestant Sara Evans is alleging in divorce papers filed Thursday that her husband, Craig Schelske, cheated on her, drank excessively, was verbally and emotionally abusive, and often watched pornography in their house.

The 35-year-old Evans alleges that Schelske has photographs of himself having sex with other women, and that he has at least 100 nude photos of himself "in a state of arousal."

Evans also says that Schelske watched pornography on the couple's computer and made requests online for sex with multiple partners.

She alleges that their oldest child confronted Schelske while he was watching porn on their TV.

On Thursday, Evans dropped out of "Dancing With the Stars" and announced that she was filing for divorce....

Evans and Schelske, 43, married in 1993 and have three children, ages 7, 3 and 2.

In 2002, Schelske ran for Congress as a Republican in Oregon.

Schelske, as was recognized on Smith's website, is also the chairman of his own Political Action Committee, the humbly-named CRAIG PAC. Before their site disappears as well:
Craig Schelske is the Chairman of CRAIG PAC, a national political action committee dedicated to electing Republicans at the federal and state level....

Professionally, Craig is a business executive who has enjoyed great success as a marketing and career strategist. He is currently the President of Gingerdog, Inc., specializing in guiding the entrepreneurial aims for Sara Evans' entertainment career.

I guess they don't make "social conservatives" like they used to. It's not my place to judge Schelske, Evans, their sexual habits, or the conditions on which their marriage was based. But these folks are pretty clearly out of line with the common Third District conception of family values. Also, as an observer of Nebraska politics, I'd be remiss if I hadn't noticed how quickly Smith tried to erase what had clearly been one of the highlights of his campaign.

Smith should be getting used to this constant game of damage control. Between the friendly relations with Schelske and his standing behind the Republican leaders who covered-up Congressman Mark Foley's sexual abuse of teenaged boys, voters are bound to start asking questions about Smith's character and about the company he keeps.

Unfortunately for Smith, not everything can be covered-up by simply deleting it from a website.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Picture Says More.....

by Kyle Michaelis

Maybe it's time to find a new hobby. The twin forces of You Tube and video editing software have left a week's worth of writing all but obsolete. Oh well, it's about the message....not the messenger.

1. "Character and Courage" in the Campaign About Nothing

2. Chuck Hagel: Cashing-In on "Character and Courage"

3. Pete "Overrated" Ricketts

Alas, though, it's not just newfangled technology that's stolen my thunder. On a different issue entirely, an old-fashioned political cartoon by the Lincoln Journal-Star's Neal Obermeyer did a pretty damn good job of capturing what I'd written in the previous post.

The same perspective but more appealing and more to the point - not to mention, more widely read. Of course, it's always reassuring to know there are similar-minded voices in Nebraska, but do they have to make this site and its author seem so inadequate by comparison?

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Local Republican Agenda Revealed - Part 2

by Kyle Michaelis
Teen Suicide A "Traditional Family Value"

This spring, Lincoln City Councilwoman Robin Eschliman mistakenly released her recommendations to cut the city budget by targeting popular services such as libraries, parks, and swimming pools, being far too open and honest about the Republican Party's goal of eliminating public resources in favor of cutting taxes and privatization.

In national politics, voters have become accustomed to such rhetoric and remain susceptible to its simple appeal so long as the cuts don't affect them personally and remain in the abstract. At the local level, though, the same ideas are far less effective because the direct benefits these public services provide to a community are so essential to its identity and to the well-being of its families.

One figured at the time that Eschliman might learn to better hide her extremist tendencies and right-wing agenda, but her recent vote to deny a miniscule grant with the simple purpose of developing a community-based approach for addressing the alarming incidence of suicide amongst gay teenagers demonstrates that Eschliman remains just as radical and out-of-touch as she's ever been. And, sadly, this time she's got company in a Republican cohort on the County Board.

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
A minor $1,500 suicide prevention grant caused some major controversy during City Council and County Board meetings this week.

The reason: The focus of the grant was gay and lesbian teenagers, and the original grant funding would have been funneled through a gay-rights advocacy group.

Both the council and County Board approved the grant, but not before some vigorous debate and amendments aimed at de-emphasizing the gay and lesbian focus....

Originally, the ... money was designated toward Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays [PFLAG] to identify and assist gay and lesbian youths.

But both the council and County Board amended their resolutions to award the contract directly to the University ... Health Center to find or develop the education program and to broaden the scope to include other high-risk groups....

[For] Councilwoman Robin Eschliman and County Commissioner Bob Workman ... even removing PFLAG as the grant recipient was not enough to garner their support.

Eschliman voted against the resolution Monday, saying it was controversial and “causes grief” to use tax dollars to fund gay and lesbian issues.

She said she’d rather give the money to something less controversial because people with “deeply held traditional family values” don’t want their tax dollars used for such causes....

Workman, who was the lone County Board member to vote against the amended resolution Tuesday, took a similar view.

“I believe this type of government funding can undermine traditional family values,” he said....

[Human Services Administrator Kit] Boesch defended the grant, saying the money would be used to create an “education module” for area professionals to help high-risk homosexual kids who are depressed and suicidal.

Studies suggest that as many as 33% of gay teens attempt suicide and that they do so at a rate four times greater than heterosexual youth. Those numbers should be cause for concern in any community and for any public official with any claim whatsoever to compassion.

The inhumanity displayed by Eschliman and Workman above borders on the outright monstrous. Preventing teen suicide by targeting those most at-risk could not possibly be controversial in the minds of decent and reasonable people. Regardless of an individual's stance on homosexuality's moral character, there is no justification for Eschliman and Workman hatefully turning their backs on those area children who are most desperate and in need.

Honestly, what sort of traditional family value would continue to sacrifice young people - no matter their orientation - to hopelessness, depression, and the ultimate tragedy of taking ones own life? What grief is their in preventing the grief of parents, friends, and families who lose their loved ones to suicide? How is suicide prevention a gay and lesbian issue? Finally, how is suicide prevention a cause for which those with deeply held "traditional family values" wouldn't want their tax dollars used?

Eschliman and Workman owe answers to the above questions. More than that, they owe an apology to anyone who has ever lost someone they love to suicide for making a political and ideological issue of the pain and suffering that leads to children committing this heart-breaking act.

Eschliman and Workman would rather young people die by their own hand than contribute $1,500 in public funds to help those whose lifestyle their religion views with disapproval. That choice is the true perversion - showing no respect for life and no understanding of the Christian doctrines to which these reactionaries would claim to adhere.

Shame on them. Shame on us for ever allowing their sort into public office. I'm just sorry that Eschliman and Workman reflect so poorly on Republicans, on the Christian faith, and on the city of Lincoln. Too many good people are associated with all three and deserve better than their revealed agenda of hate, intolerance, and ignorance.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Pete "Overrated" Ricketts

by Kyle Michaelis
Multiple polls over the last few months have shown that more than half of the voters in Nebraska have a negative impression of Senate challenger Pete Ricketts. And, amazingly, his ratings have only gotten worse as Election Day nears - last registering at 54% disapproval.

With that in mind, I'd like to know how the hell political analyst Charlie Cook could declare Ricketts "a strong first-time candidate" at the same time he downgraded the race from leaning towards Ben Nelson to a likely Nelson victory.

Just being rich does not qualify Ricketts as "a strong first-time candidate." More than that, spending $10 million dollars of your own money - more single-handedly than had ever before been spent by both candidates in a Nebraska election - certainly shouldn't earn such positive comment when all that money spent bombarding the state with an endless stream of campaign ads over the last 11 months has only really been successful at alienating voters.

And, what's really ridiculous is that Ricketts' approval rating should plummet even further after his latest attacks on Nelson dragged the campaign to depths of silliness and depravity never before seen in Nebraska politics.

Ricketts' first attacked Nelson for the high crime of failing to change the property tax status of his Platte River property with an animated song so grating and convoluted that the campaign's incompetence almost bordered on cute. With millions of more dollars in his trustfund but no other message to run on, Ricketts decided to take another crack at the same desperate criticism, coming up with an ad that manages to be even more insulting to voters' intelligence. The ad is also morbid and sadistic, portraying the shooting of exotic animals (including a photo of a dead giraffe that will probably give young children nightmares) just to establish a stupid and far-fetched theme serving no function whatsoever.

Running a campaign like this - with ads like these - Ricketts might just have become the most hated man in Nebraska. And, he just keeps digging, practically daring those Republicans who do support Ricketts to either not vote at all or to vote for Nelson as a matter of decency and common dignity.

This is not the campaign of "a strong first-time candidate." This isn't even the campaign of a mediocre first-time candidate. This is the campaign of a spoiled and obnoxious brat who is so used to getting his way and so out-of-touch with real Nebraskans that he doesn't even recognize the complete failure of his "scorched Earth" strategy.

This race is no longer worth writing about, except putting the spotlight on Ricketts as he continues to self-destruct offers a sad lesson in the dangers of wealth, privilege, and partisanship taking the place of campaigns rooted in actual principles.

Ricketts is embarrassing himself. He's hurting the state of Nebraska and dumbing-down its politics to such a degree that one has to worry about the future effects. Hopefully, enough potential candidates recognize the error of Ricketts' ways, choosing to run campaigns on issues and ideas - maybe even that little thing called a record - rather than further poisoning the well.

"Strong first-time candidate", indeed. If any proof is needed that national political analysts don't know what they're talking about, I'd say this here is a damn fine example.

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Republicans Worried About Adrian Smith (And They Should Be)

by Kyle Michaelis
The Lincoln Journal-Star's Don Walton reported Monday on the Third District Congressional race:
In a communication sent last week seeking volunteers to help [Adrian] Smith turn out the GOP vote, Republican State Chairman Mark Quandahl wrote: “The 3rd District congressional race is going to close.”

Quandahl shows good sense in recognizing that Smith is in trouble. And, the more voters pay attention - the more they look at the record - the more trouble Smith will be in. Scott Kleeb continues to impress people across the Thrid District. Both Democrats and Republicans alike have recognized that Kleeb beats Smith in person, on paper, and on the issues.

Add in the fact that Smith has sold-out the interests of his constituents to the dangerous, anti-farm programs Club for Growth, and even the most die-hard of Republicans are hard-pressed for a reason to support him over Kleeb if they care about rural America.

In trying to defend the hundreds of thousands of dollars in special interest money he'd taken in Friday's Omaha World-Herald, Smith already laid the groundwork for his eventually succumbing to the Club for Growth's extremist position. At the same time, a fellow Republican state senator who served with Smith throughout his years in the legislature raised new and very significant doubts about Smith's leadership:
As of the last campaign report, Club for Growth members had given more than $400,000 to Smith's campaign, well over half of his contributions....

Smith said it was his record of opposing tax hikes and the estate tax and his support for President Bush's tax cuts that won the club's backing....

"My contributions are an endorsement of my record," Smith said....

Smith said Club for Growth knows that he differs with the group on farm policy. He pointed to a recent radio interview in which Club for Growth President Pat Toomey said Smith doesn't agree with the group "100 percent."

"We need a slight change (in farm subsidies), not revolutionary change," Smith said.

In a "perfect world," he said, subsidies could be ended gradually, "but we have to be realistic, and that's what I've been for the past eight years."

Interviews with several lawmakers produced mixed views on Smith's effectiveness as a state senator, though almost all agreed he was pleasant to work with....

Smith's hard-line stance against a tax-hike package in 2002 during a state budget crisis cost him political capital with some lawmakers and admiration from others.

"He voted against every budget, but he didn't articulate any particular thing that needed to be cut," said Sen. Don Pederson of North Platte, chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee. "That doesn't accomplish anything."

Pederson, a Republican, said he was concerned about Club for Growth's involvement in the campaign and Smith's contention that he doesn't have to support its views. "It doesn't work that way," he said.

That's some "realist" who votes against every budget with an eye on future elections without offering any actual ideas for what cuts he'd like to see.

What's funny (and scary for the Third District) is that Smith already has a record of changing his mind to position himself with the Club for Growth and to keep their flow of contributions coming in to his campaign. When the Omaha World-Herald last profiled Smith before the primary (Apr. 18), he had not yet grown so cautious about hiding the Club for Growth's influence:
In an interview, [Smith] said he would have voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Later, Smith called back and said that after more contemplation he had changed his mind and would have voted for CAFTA.

That later stance puts Smith in line with the Club for Growth, but Smith said the group's support had nothing to do with his position on the trade pact.

"Nothing to do with his position." Nope, nothing at all. As Sen. Pederson remarked above, "It doesn't work that way." And, to think, the Club for Growth has funneled at least another $100,000 into Smith's campaign since that first demonstration of just how far their money will go.

A sucker may be born every minute, but Smith seems to be counting on every last one of them being voters in the Third District. That isn't going to be the case this November. The people are on to Smith, and the Republican Party knows it. That's why Adrian Smith needs all the help he can get. That's why Scott Kleeb can win this election.

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