Scores of Yale alumni have become politicians during the school’s 307-year history. Scott Kleeb GRD ’06 may be the next one — at least, he hopes.
Kleeb, a Democrat who currently teaches history at Hastings College, launched his campaign for a Nebraska Senate seat Monday, kicking off an uphill battle against a popular former Republican governor and U.S. secretary of agriculture in one of the reddest of “red states.” But Kleeb — once named one of the 50 most beautiful people on campus by Rumpus — will have to make it through a crowded Democratic primary field before he gets the chance to preach his message of bipartisanship and economic populism to the general-election populace.
“Clearly, we’ve got a long road ahead of us,” Kleeb said Monday night.
Although he has never held elective office, the 32-year-old Kleeb, a former “Cold War” TA, is no stranger to political campaigns. In 2006, he waged an unsuccessful — but close — race for Congress in the heavily Republican third district of the state. In that election, which he lost to current Rep. Adrian Smith, 45 to 55 percent, Kleeb ran on a platform centered on agricultural and economic issues and a promise of increased technology for more isolated, rural areas.
“There was just a hunger statewide [back then] for the politics we were talking about,” he said.
This time around, Kleeb will focus his campaign on reducing the national debt, boosting stagnant wages and addressing “a global threat of extremism and division,” he said in a statement yesterday.
In an interview Monday, Kleeb said that if elected, he will also push for biodiesel and alternative-energy production, as well as more government oversight of economic markets, which he said are failing because of a complete lack of governmental control. Kleeb said he does not yet have a specific remedy to offer, but he will be releasing plans in the next few weeks.
Moreover, Kleeb said, he hopes to do move legislation in a way that does not turn Nebraskans off of the political process, with which many of them have become disillusioned because of partisan squabbling. The problems he wants to tackle are issues that defy Democratic and Republican lines, he said.
Big words for a 6-foot-3 cowboy from the Great Plains.
“He is a legitimate cowboy from a ranch from Nebraska, where he spends his time castrating cattle,” said history professor Charles Hill, who taught Kleeb. “[He is] very intellectual. He’s very personable, attractive, someone that really makes a strong impression on people.”
Although Hill leans conservative — he served as Rudy Giuliani’s chief foreign policy advisor during the presidential campaign — he added, “I’m totally behind him.”
Gaddis also seemed excited by Kleeb’s up-start candidacy. Gaddis, who last spoke with Kleeb about three weeks ago, said it is not surprising that his former student decided to throw his hat in the ring.
In fact, Gaddis suggested he may have pushed Kleeb into politics in the first place. The day after the 2004 presidential elections, Kleeb came to him “discouraged” about the prospects for the Democratic Party, Gaddis explained.
“I remember saying to him, ‘This is not gonna get any better, Scott, unless you take over the Democratic Party in the red states,’ ” Gaddis said. “And two weeks later, he decided to run [for Congress].”
Now, on Kleeb’s second try, Gaddis said he thinks Kleeb has a good shot at making it to the general election.
But as for how Kleeb will fare in the general election, Gaddis said simply, “who knows?” After attending the University of Colorado as an undergraduate, Kleeb arrived in New Haven to study history and international relations. For his doctoral dissertation in history, he wrote about the effects of European finance on the cattle industry in the western United States.
His time as a student and instructor at Yale has informed the way he performs as a candidate, Kleeb said.
“One of the terrific aspects of the Yale community was the activism and the attention and the hunger in people there to engage in meaningful conversations about [U.S. issues],” he said.
On the Republican side, former Nebraska Governor and U.S. Secretary for Agriculture Mike Johanns faces Schuyler, Neb., resident and local businessman Pat Flynn in the primaries. Running against Kleeb for the Democratic nod will be Tony Raimondo, CEO of Behlen Manufacturing in Columbia, Neb., and Fremont resident Larry Marvin.
The seat is currently held by maverick Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, who has broken with his party over the war in Iraq and is retiring after his term is up.