Monday, December 18, 2006

Best Case Scenario: Nebraska Democrats' 2008 Senate Recruitment

by Kyle Michaelis
The good folks at Swing State Project have invited readers to propose their picks for Nebraska's Democratic Senate nominee in 2008.

The thrust of the entire discussion seems to be dependent on Senator Chuck Hagel not seeking re-election if a Democratic candidate is to have any realistic chance at victory. Alas, if history is any guide, the already thin ranks of top tier Democratic contenders would most likely sit-out any race against an incumbent Hagel.

Although Hagel certainly has his problems with President Bush's loyalist Republican base, it's pretty damn hard imagining that discontent running deep enough to jeopardize Hagel in a primary challenge. Of course, some disgruntled Republicans want to imagine that Dave Heineman's victory over Tom Osborne in the 2006 gubernatorial primary was some sort of activist uprising offering a model to take-out Hagel in similarly surprising fashion. But, these people are entirely oblivious to the extent of Hagel's reach in the Nebraska Republican Party - which was only solidified by Heineman's election.

Heineman's victory was the triumph of an institution that Hagel was not only instrumental in building over the last decade but over which he and his staff assumed almost complete control in the 2006 election cycle. The question for Republicans then becomes not whether any candidates could defeat Hagel but, rather, whether Hagel has already chosen his successor for them.

Back to the discussion of potential Democratic challengers, I have to agree with the argument put forward by Nebraska's own Dave Sund at Swing State Project that the top prospect is Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey, followed by that champion of rural America Scott Kleeb, after which there is a pretty steep drop-off in terms of probability and electability - if not quality - for any of the other suggested candidates.

In fairness, my NNN compatriot, Ryan Anderson, makes a strong argument for Kleeb's being better positioned to make the leap to a statewide race, but the experience, the record, and the resources Fahey could bring to the table are all powerful assets to which he alone lays claim.

As for the other names that arise, none of them scream instant credibility. But, I enjoy outlandish speculation as much as the next guy and encourage anyone with an intriguing theory to share it at Swing State Project and right here at the New Nebraska Network.


Blogger Ryan Anderson said...

Well, allow me to get the ball rolling:

My guess is that after Fahey and Kleeb, the next most likely recruit is Chuck Hassebrook, University of Nebraska Regent and Executive Director of the Center for Rural Affairs who, rumor has it, has been chomping at the bit to run for higher office. Interesting resume, but I know next to nothing about his ability as a campaigner. Anyone care to fill me in?

Blogger Dave said...

I don't know much about Hassebroek, other than the fact that he's from Lyons, and has run unopposed for the Board of Regents. Just based on the fact that he's run unopposed I don't know if he'd be a seasoned campaigner.

I'd say that if Fahey or Kleeb pass on the race (and I really only think that would happen if Hagel decides to run), that we may see a recruit from outside the political realm. I don't really have any suggestions for those possibilities right now.

But it might be interesting if we actually had a competitive primary in 2008. We're going to need some strong Democratic turnout in the primary to help get our legislative candidates through.

Blogger Ryan Anderson said...

Interesting call for a competitive primary. When was the last time we had one, 1990 Gov?

Makes sense on the legislative side, but I worry about it draining the limited resources that either candidate would need to compete. There aren't exactly a lot of deep pockets opening up for Democratic candidates in Nebraska, and we might just need the combination of a crowded Republican field and a clear path to nomination for the Democrat in order to even things out a little. This is what allowed Kleeb to be financially competitive with Smith in NE-03, after all.

Blogger Dave said...

I think it's a positive if our candidate is less known, and doesn't have the sort of campaign experience or name recognition necessary to compete in a statewide race. There's a lot of negatives, though, including those that you mentioned. If Fahey or Kleeb run, then I don't think a primary would benefit us. Otherwise, I think we should encourage a primary so that we have the strongest possible candidate.

Anonymous JFinNE said...

Why isn't Jim Esch's name in this hat? He lost, but still seemed to conduct a great campaign effort and still make sense.

Hearsay: Is Lee Terry serious about the Presidential '08 race? I say Run Lee Run! Did anyone see him on Colbert's Know your District? Poor fellow thought he did well.

Blogger Ryan Anderson said...

Actually, Esch is already committed to running again in NE-02:

I'd say he is pretty well positioned in that race, moreso than he would be in a statewide contest.

And as far as president in '08, I think you're confusing Lee Terry with Chuck Hagel. Senator Hagel's the one testing the presidential waters, and if he does get into that race Terry is considering running for his seat in the Senate.

Still, that "Better Know a District" bit was hilarious, and I'm with you: run Terry run! I don't care what office, either. :)

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about Jim Jenkins? I think a competitive primary would be good to encourage young, first time voters to register as Democrats. What is the fun in joining a party when you never have a choice on who to vote for in primary elections?

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...

Chuck Hassebrook has been a fine Regent, and I truly admire the work of the Center for Rural Affairs. Unfortunately, he's likely to fall into many of the same traps as State Sen. (and 2004 Congressional candidate) Matt Connealy. Both are highly-regarded by the rural voters of Northeast Nebraska but can't rely on that support with a D by their names on the ballot.

Jim Jenkins, the successful restaurateur (a la Bob Kerrey) has been talked about as a potential candidate for a couple of years. Hopefully, he'll eventually work up the courage to take on the mighty but not insurmountable task of running for political office as a Democrat in Nebraska, though when and at what level he can make a serious bid is largely going to be dependent on what sort of effort and resources he's really able to invest.

What Jim Esch understood in 2006 and worked to great effect is the fact that Omaha has a dormant political force that can be mobilized by the right candidate with a strong message. But, appealing to these voters puts him somewhat out-of-step (in style, if not on the issues) with the statewide population. So, I think there's good reason for Esch's immediate political future resting in the city of Omaha or the 2nd Congressional District.

If we have one candidate who stands head and shoulders above others, I don't think a primary battle is essential. But, there's a lot to be said for the proving ground they provide, even at the expense of admittedly scarce resources.

Nebraska Democrats certainly shouldn't fear a good primary - such would be a testament to the Democratic Party's strength. An abundance of legitimate Democratic candidates who actually believe in themselves enough to run for higher office will be the truest sign that Nebraska's era of Republican domination has come to an end.

It is as much a question of mentality as it is one of wins and losses.

Anonymous Big Tone said...

I am all for Mike Fahey. I think he can beat Hagel even if he runs for reelection. I think people in Nebraska are getting tired of Hagel's grandstanding and that is evidenced by the exit polling that said only 36% felt he would be a good president. Maybe that figure does not jump out at everybody like me but McCain, Obama, and Clinton all had at least 50 percent in the exit polling in their home states. Hagel is vulnerable, no doubt about it.

Anonymous Jason B said...

Whoever the nominee may be, money will be most likely be a big factor in the race. I think Kleeb would be our best chance, if the DSCC gets into the race he might have a 50/50 chance against a non-charismatic Republican, which frankly describes about every single elected Reep in the state.


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