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Another Day in the Life of a Political Handicapper

People seem to like hearing about candidates, and since candidate interviews are some of the most important things I do, I report about them from time to time. [IMGCAP(1)]

I interviewed this column’s candidates (or potential candidates) at the end of May. These three interviewees are not representative of all the candidates I see (if only because all three are Democrats). So my opinion of them and their campaigns could change during the course of the cycle.

Bill Gluba. Last year, former state Rep. Bill Gluba carried the Democratic banner against Rep. Jim Nussle (R) in Iowa’s 1st district, a politically competitive district in the northeastern corner of the Hawkeye State. Now Gluba wants another shot at Congress.

Nussle first won the district in 1990, and he’s turned back numerous Democratic challenges since then. Gluba drew under 44 percent against Nussle last time, and the race never was one of national Democrats’ top priorities. Gluba raised just $526,000 for that race, far below what we all have come to expect from a top-tier challenger.

I like Gluba, but I have problems with his campaign. He presents himself as the frontrunner in the race for the ’06 Democratic nomination, which has extra value given that Nussle is expected to give up his House seat to run for governor. But is he?

Gluba faces at least two major primary opponents who could well have the resources to get known quickly: Bruce Braley, the former president of the Iowa Trial Lawyers Association, and Rick Dickinson, director of the Greater Dubuque Development Corp. And while Gluba has run before in the district, his performance was not strong enough to convince anyone other than himself that he deserves another chance.

Even more important, key Iowa Democratic political veterans don’t see him as all that formidable a contender for their party’s nomination. Gluba ran against Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) in both 1982 and 1988 and many Iowa insiders see him as not merely yesterday’s news, but last month’s.

Gluba’s most recent race gives him name identification and contacts that his primary opponents lack, for now. But if they have money and institutional support — and at least one of them surely will — they will be able to overcome his initial advantages.

Ron Klein. State Sen. Ron Klein is almost certain to be the next in a long line of challengers to Republican Rep. Clay Shaw (Fla.), a 13-term veteran in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Can Klein succeed where Gwen Margolis, Elaine Bloom, Carol Roberts and Jim Stork — all of whom received their share of hype from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — failed? Possibly.

Klein is personable and articulate. He’s polished without being too slick, politically savvy without oozing politics. All I can say is that he “gets it.” He comes across as someone who could be a Member of Congress and is clearly an A-list House candidate.

Having said all of that, he’s an underdog against Shaw, who has proven his resilience and has won under a variety of circumstances.

Klein represents a very Democratic legislative district, and he served for two years as the Democratic leader of the state Senate. That makes it difficult to convince voters that he’s as an “independent,” pro-business Democrat, even though that’s how he presents himself.

Shaw has taken everything thrown at him through the years, by his opponents and by the DCCC. If there’s a Democratic wave in the midterm election, it could be enough to sweep the Congressman out. But at this point, it’s much too premature to predict a wave.

Scott Kleeb. Democrat Scott Kleeb is a nice, good-looking, personable, very sincere young man who has no chance of being elected to Congress next year in Nebraska’s very Republican 3rd district, if he ultimately decides to run.

Kleeb, 29, is one of a group of candidates and potential candidates over the years for whom I have very mixed feelings. I’m impressed by their earnestness, but I feel sorry for them because they are spending so much time and effort on the impossible. It even annoys me a little that they are so unrealistic about their chances.

A graduate of the University of Colorado, Kleeb was in a Ph.D. program at Yale when he decided abruptly to change his focus and consider elective office. He’s been active in campaigns before, working for Democrat Gene Nichols’ unsuccessful House and Senate bids in Colorado and for the Clinton/Gore campaign in New Mexico in 1996.

But he’s never done anything in Nebraska. Zip. Zilch. (He has extended family in Broken Bow.) In 2004, he voted absentee in Colorado. He has never voted in Nebraska. Not once. Not ever. Zero times.

I hope nobody has encouraged Kleeb to run by holding out even the faintest hope that he can win. He has no name identification, no money and no Democratic base in the western Nebraska Congressional district in which he may run. He could learn some lessons about himself and politics in a quest for Congress this cycle, but he could affect more people’s lives by finishing his doctorate and teaching. Otherwise, he’s spending his time tilting at windmills. Graduate school is a better option.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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