Thursday, October 19, 2006

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.


Anonymous JFinNE said...

Kyle - You should delete this entry because it has no substance. In blog language, it is a "Concern" blog and only does damage to a candidate. As a frequent DailyKos visitor, the articles and comments on Kleeb have consisted of pure fluff in that the majority of commentors reacted to the manly man photos of Scott. He's so Hot Hot Hot! So what?

I counted maybe five to ten comments from actual Nebraskans, one of whom corrected another commentor that no, Scott wasn't in a field of ragweed, but was surrounded by Goldenrod.

If Smith can portray Kleeb as just another pretty boy with no brains, he can go for it, but it doesn't hold water.

Blogger Giving 'Em Hell said...

Your concern, and post, is legit. Many of us are wondering if Kleeb’s chances are too good to be true. I remain optimistic that many voters with the slightest effort will see through Smith’s BS and ignore the (R) by his name. We just have to keep giving them hell.

Blogger tomjoad63 said...

A concern, yes, but at this point there is no such thing as bad publicity. Any chance voters get to compare Kleeb to Smith even on campaign finances is good. I assume there will be lots of outside money comming into to this race from both sides. Trust the independant minded voters of the "fightin' 3rd" to sort through the BS.

Anonymous Ryan Anderson said...

A very valid concern, and one I've been worrying about, as well. Frankly, I can't believe that Kleeb went to that fundraiser. And I really, really can't believe Smith hasn't brought it up yet. But I do think this blog entry does nothing but do oppo research for the Smith campaign. I wish you would have waited to see if Smith was smart enough to figure this out for himself.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...

As incompetent as Adrian Smith's campaign has been, I find it inconceivable that they would have learned anything from this post. My concern is simply that Kleeb be prepared if/when Smith uses these ultimately quite insignificant connections against him.

Consider that my "Boyscout defense" for publishing this entry. Any possibility of diluting Smith's "Club for Growth" allegiance with even the faintest hint of hypocrisy can't be allowed to fester unacknowledged.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I gotta say, man, wow, this is 1,400 words of drivel--might even be an all-time NNN record. Kyle, you could totally have written this post in 3 or 4 paragraphs.

What do you think of the possibility that the incompetent Smith camp didn't know any of this until you brought it up?

Blogger Dave said...

Kyle, I've been on the other side of the discussion before when you've said bloggers take themselves too seriously (and I'm sure you'd agree you're guilty as charged in that regard sometimes). But I think here you're fretting over nothing. We are 19 days out from the election and if all Smith has is the "liberal boogeyman" argument, then he's already lost this election.

JF is right that most of the comments were from swooning females. But the argument of Kos or "liberal bloggers" isn't working against Jon Tester in Montana, or Larry Craig in Idaho. It won't work against Kleeb. Remember when the RNC wanted to make Markos the boogeyman? They quickly learned that no one had any idea who he was.

On the subject of bloggers - the real work is being done by the activists and the grassroots campaigns all across the country. But the blogs serve as an important tool to get the message out and provide a network of contributions and potential volunteers for a campaign. The fact that Nebraska is getting a bit of netroots attention for Kleeb and now Esch is incredibly encouraging. Strength in numbers is the power of bloggers.

Under the radar races rarely stay that way if they are to end in victory. Kleeb's endorsement by the OWH immediately put him on the national radar screen.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...

There's so much hype around this Election Day across the country that it's hard to weed it from reality. That's especially true if you partake in the dueling echo chambers of the blogging community (that today saw DKos declare Jim Esch a "serious challenger" to Lee Terry, which he is - but only in the moral sense).

In my own little way, this "drivel" is an attempt to navigate that tricky terrain, though even that requires buying into the notion that this "blog stuff" (including what I write) has any significant effect.

I call things the way I see them and speak when I have something to say. Here, I probably am guilty of taking a relatively simple concern and blowing it out of proportion. But, all I've done is thrown an idea out there to give folks something to ponder and think over. That's all I've ever tried to do.

Perhaps my style and supposed purpose don't lend themselves to the campaign-side of politics, but I'm not going to apologize for that. If it's out-of-state meddling that has offended Third District voters as much as Adrian Smith's specific "Club for Growth" connections, there's a definite problem here. Considering that Kleeb's ties to the district have so often been questioned (with Smith's roots his only real advantage, besides being a Republican), I would have expected a greater deal of care. These little problems have a way of building into something more - something deadly - if you let them.

A campaign is a battle of perceptions. I've offered an alternative viewpoint that reflects my understanding of Nebraska voters and the themes to which they are susceptible. Take it for what you will.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's not forget that Adrian made an out-of-state appearance for his campaign as well--his September rally at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Virginia. I don't know if it was a fundraiser or not, but Smith uttered some lines ("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.") that he might not sit well with 3rd district voters.

Blogger Dave said...

Of course, by "Larry Craig" I meant "Larry Grant." Larry Craig is the allegedly gay Republican Senator from Idaho, Larry Grant is the Democratic candidate for Idaho's 1st District.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...


Thanks for the Liberty U link. I knew nothing at all of that appearance, though I've been meaning to write about Smith's Falwell connection for some time. That article should be of enormous assistance.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Kyle, I think I hadn't had my morning coffee yesterday. Apologies for the name-calling. Wouldn't want you to confuse me with Pete Ricketts.

Brevity is good, but sometimes longer posts are necessary. I'll bite my tongue and stick to substantive.

Blogger Don Kuhns said...

Hey, I just had a funny thought. Club For Growth was the gang responsible for the "TAX HIKING, GOVERNMENT-EXPANDING, LATTE-DRINKING, SUSHI-EATING, VOLVO-DRIVING, NEW YORK TIMES-READING, BODY PIERCING, HOLLYWOOD-LOVING, LEFT-WING FREAK SHOW" ads against Howard Dean in Iowa. What if they tried the same thing against our Scotty? After all, he's been dissin' them as much as Smith.

Seriously Kyle, I am curious about your comment, ' saw DKos declare Jim Esch a "serious challenger" to Lee Terry' I have searched Daily Kos and haven't been able to find anything like this. Can you provide a link or at least point me in the right direction?

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...


I'm happy to oblige.

The direct quote, from the legendary Kos himself is:

That now makes 69 Republican-held House seats that CQ considers competitive, with new ones seemingly added on a daily basis. For example, Nancy Boyda is a serious challenger in KS-03, as is Robert Rodriguez in CA-25, and Jim Esch in NE-02 -- none of these and others listed as competitive yet but have serious grassroots-backed candidates.

Sadly, for the Club for Growth, cowboys don't drive Volvos.


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