Scott Kleeb is in the race for the Senate. He had a whirlwind day yesterday, filing for the seat and fielding a solid day's worth of interviews about the race. I was lucky enough to catch up with him late in the afternoon as he drove from one interview to the next. You do a lot of driving in Nebraska, so I was lucky to get him for almost half an hour on the phone. The highlights of our discussion in a minute. But first, a little bit about what this race means to Nebraska Dems.
As the New Nebraska Network has been chronicling for months, Scott's 2006 campaign really sparked a resurgence for 3rd district Dems. His campaign got them engaged and excited and activated for the first time in decades. And when he lost that race (thanks to nearly $500K from the Club for Growth, and visits to the district by Hastert, Cheney, and Bush, the people who were so excited about his campaign weren't ready to let go. They even started up the Draft Kleeb movement, garnering pledges of support of time and money from hundreds of Nebraskans, ready to support a real Democrat in their state.
Those efforts intensified when it became clear that the establishment choice for the Dems in running against Mike Johanns, former governor and the declared Republican in the race, was a Republican who decided he couldn't win in that primary. So Tony Raimondo, who had been considered for a Bush administration appointment as "manufacturing czar" switched sides to run in the primary he figures he can buy, as Mike Nellis details here in the updates to his post.
This primary is shaping up to look an awful lot like Montana in 2006, except the establishment candidate isn't an actual Democrat, like John Morrison was, but a Republican in sheep's clothing. It's going to take people power, just like it did in Montana, to crash that Nebraska gate and get Scott elected.
No one understands that better than Scott himself, as we discussed yesterday afternoon. Catch our interview below the fold.
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Scott Kleeb for Senate
SK: It's been an incredible day. We started at about 4:00 this morning and haven't let up. In fact, I've got several more interviews tonight... It's been non-stop.
There was no filing like this on the other side.... There's something here. There's a hunger here, so we couldn't have started any better....
JM: How has the local media reacted?
SK: Very intrigued by the whole idea of having the first—I think it's the first one in a very, very long time—contested primary on the Democratic side. Usually that's the case among Republicans, but in our state, as you know, it hasn't always been the case [for Democrats]. So, they're loving that aspect of this race, and they know what we did [in 2006]. So, for instance, when I filed the paperwork today, there were television cameras, there were news reporters, both print and television crews, filming the whole signing and everything like that. You know, they're asking the obvious questions. It's difficult, it's a red state, can you do this? Johanns has name recognition, he's run statewide and won statewide—how do you compete against him? How do you compete against Tony? How can you raise the money? And all the sorts of obvious questions you would assume. But very positive.
JM: How much notice have they paid to the DraftKleeb.com campaign and the grassroots/netroots effort behind you?
SK: They covered when it came out, and I've been saying to all of them that the draft Kleeb movement ... has decided to get involved. That's the great story of this election cycle. The number of people who are getting involved who never have before ... who got people engaged and got me seriously thinking about this very big step.... To have an idea in your mind is a whole lot different from knowing that there's several hundred people already through one guy's effort....
We had an organization in the third district, a very strong organization that we could turn to. But you know our caucus story here is remarkable. They all are remarkable—the primaries and caucuses and turnout.
There's this stat that I like to use ... Washington state also caucused on the same day as Nebraska. It's a state of 1.7 million, we had 38,000 people caucus. Washington state is a state of 6.4 million people, and they had 34 or 36,000. So we had more people show up even though we're a third the size of Washington state....[Update: this statement is in error, a miscommunication in the numbers coming out of Washington--there were actually over 200K caucus participants in WA.] It really has just electrified politics in the state.... We had roughly 15,000 new registrants in the state and we had 5,000 in one day in Douglas county. For a state legislator, he just 5,000 new voters? Guess what, it's a whole different race, up and down the ticket.
JM: What did you learn from 2006 that you're taking in to 2008?
SK: I started the campaign in 2006 thinking that I had to have a whole lot of answers, thinking that people were going to be turning to me and saying "what do you think on this" and "How are you going to address it" and there's an element of truth to that, when you're electing somebody you want them to be able to think through an issue, have an opinion on an issue. That's obvious. However, when we really started to pick up was when I realized the other element, which is at some point people are engaged in your campaign for their own reasons. That our campaign became just that—it wasn't about me, it wasn't about you, it was about new people getting engaged in the political process and enlivening that process. They were there for their own reasons, they were there for their own communities, they were there for their own future. And together we became this vehicle for that. I tell you, once I realized that, it just had a tremendous impact. That's when our campaign really lit a spark and took off....
That's the way we're going to have to run this campaign. It's not just the way we're going to have to run to win, that's what it's about. Asking people to become engaged in the issues and to become engaged in our democracy ... whether it's on the netroots or whether it is on the call-in shows or whether it is on a campaign. That' the thing that is happening in this election, it's that people want to talk about politics. It is again something that's engaging for people and there's a desire there to be part of that change.
JM: What are the major issues folks are talking about to you now as opposed to in 2006?
SK: There's a reality of issues now where before people were frustrated, now they're almost disappointed. There's right track/wrong track—70 percent wrong track in this state, in this "red" state, and it is touching on everything. Energy policy, ag policy, economic policy, foreign policy, education policy....
JM: How do you approach the primary?
SK: We've got to enter a question which is: He was running in the Republican primary as a Republican. And he didn't think that he could win as a Republican against Mike Johanns, he needs to explain to voters how he thinks he can win as a Democrat.
JM: How are partisan Dems reacting? Do you see a lot more grassroots support of people saying, yeah, go. We need you?
SK: Absolutely, because what our campaign did last year was to give quiet Dems who have been sort of whispering and quietly voting as Democrats for so long, it gave them a reason to come and say you know what? I am a Democrat. That was astounding. And Republicans began [to come over] and to articulate their frustrations with their choices. That the party that my grandfather belonged to, the Republican party, was no longer the Republican party that is representing Republicans out here in these areas.... There's a disconnect between how Republicans in my district and in our state, how they see themselves for the most part and ... what they see the Republican party representing and fighting for in DC. So there's grassroots activists, the Democrats are excited as heck.
There were comparisons throughout the campaign, because we kind of came out of nowhere, back to [the old days]. Our strongest days, back when we held every federal office and the governorship, except for the third district, was back in the '80s. We had a very strong party and what we did, we activated groups of people, in counties we had 93 counties and I think 87 had caucuses. They were all there, because they were there phonebanking for us. Now Mr. Obama has certainly had something to do with that as well, and so has Senator Clinton. But those people started getting engaged again because of our campaign. At least in the third district.
Is it going to be a challenge? Yes. Is this year going to be a unique year because there are opportunities that don't often exist? There's no question about it. And not only did we run, Joan, in the most Republican part of the state, but we also ran in one of the most Republican parts of the country, one of the most conservative districts in America. We were eight points up in my poll, we were up in his, from what I heard. Then the president came out. $450,000 from the Club for Growth, the vice president came out, the speaker of the house.... It took a lot to stop what we were starting [in 2006]....
Like every campaign, you take some chances. Can we afford this or that, or what can we do. And it was right around the time that you approached me and raised the awareness that, I mean, we were saved. You guys came in at a very critical stage that allowed us to stay on TV and to introduce us to more people.
JM: Is there anything else you want to add for the Daily Kos community?
SK: I think that what we started, that what several people started and the conversation we started—the interest and the sparking of interest in ordinary people from all walks of life, getting engaged in politics and continuing to have the debates that our democracy demands is wonderful. I look forward to all kinds of conversations going forward, with folks here in my state and folks around the country. Thanks for the opportunity, very much, it means a lot.