The Democratic candidate for Nebraska’s third congressional district, Scott Kleeb GRD ’03, said at a Pierson College Master’s Tea Tuesday that he is confident about his chances for victory next fall, despite the state’s recent tendency to vote Republican.
“There’s no question it’s an uphill battle,” Kleeb said. “But there’s also no question that people are hungry for this. They’re hungry to be involved, to be asked, to be brought in.”
Kleeb — a rodeo bull rider and former teaching assistant for history professor John Gaddis’ popular lecture course “The Cold War” — spoke to a crowd of about 30 students and professors yesterday afternoon about the challenges facing Democrats who run for office in the heart of “red America” and the increased ideological polarization in national politics.
Kleeb, who was born in Turkey and spent much of his childhood growing up a military base in Italy, lamented the loss of real political discourse throughout his talk. He said he thinks voters have become distracted by peripheral issues.
“The issues that matter aren’t being talked about,” Kleeb said. “Instead, we’re hung up on a few issues. We’re talking about the Pledge of Allegiance, DeLay, the Dean scream. There’s a great poverty of discussion out there.”
Kleeb also addressed the economic hardship farmers in Nebraska are currently facing. He said politicians should work to mitigate the consequences of the economic changes that have accompanied globalization through a combination of tax incentives for businesses, reduced subsidies and improved infrastructure.
“You can’t make a cell phone call from western Nebraska anywhere,” Kleeb said. “We don’t have the infrastructure to allow farmers to sell their beef online. If you can’t sell your product online in western Nebraska, how are you going to be able to compete?”
He said he hopes his discussions with Nebraska citizens throughout the campaign will inspire confidence in people who are disenchanted with government.
“Government has done some horrible things, but government has also done a lot of amazing, empowering things,” he said. “That type of government that empowers, not hinders — people are for that.”
In order to win in a state like Nebraska, Democrats must move past ideological polarization and oversimplifications, Kleeb said. He said Democrats should focus on forging a middle ground and finding ways to reconcile sometimes seemingly contradictory values, such as environmental protection and job growth.
“We have been led to believe that there is no middle ground,” Kleeb said. “That’s crazy. It’s a whole lot more complex than that.”
Students at the tea said they enjoyed Kleeb’s insights on the complexities of rural politics.
“I don’t know a lot about agriculture, but it seems like a big issue here in the U.S. and on the international scene,” said Sara Schlemm ’07. “I was impressed that he could think locally and internationally as well.”
Adam Nelson ’08 said he was glad to meet a candidate with a solid command of issues important to his constituents.
“I was really happy to hear he truly understands the issues presented to people living in states like Nebraska,” Nelson said. “He’s looking for solutions to a lot of complex issues that haven’t been addressed adequately in the past.”
After the tea, Kleeb held a dinner at Naples Pizza, where he talked about his upcoming race and discussed ways Yalies could get involved in the campaign.