Scott Kleeb's 'Daily Kos' Conundrumby Kyle Michaelis
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.