Cowboy Up: 'Hottest Senate Candidate' Inspires Sudden S.F. Interest in Nebraska Politics

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This picture was so not taken in San Francisco

Candidate/Rancher/Professor drinks, passes the (cowboy) hat in city

By Joe Eskenazi

When queried if they had ever set foot in the great state of Nebraska, several of the San Francisco party-goers responded not in the affirmative or the negative but by tossing back their heads and laughing. And that would be fair enough – if the Democratic candidate for Senate from Nebraska weren’t two yards away, chatting, drinking and, for the moment, not calf-roping.

Scott Kleeb – whose latest commercial features the aforementioned calf-roping as well as the unnaturally handsome candidate outfitted in a shirt your girlfriend wouldn’t let you wear – has been causing quite a stir when he sets his toe in the bluer waters of the nation. Last month, a New Yorker Talk of the Town piece mentioned the 32-year-old’s propensity for bull-riding, tight jeans and resemblance to the “young David Hasselhoff.” While invocations of The Hoff will now and forever after conjure up imagery of his bloated, 50-something incarnation eating off the floor in a drunken haze, let the record show the comparison to the alluring Hoff is warranted.

Perhaps that was a factor in why around 50 San Franciscans – apparently only two of whom had visited Nebraska in their lifetimes, namely because they were from there – filed into a Market Street nightclub for a Kleeb fund-raiser on Monday, Sept. 22. They probably didn’t know that Kleeb – pronounced “Kleb” – is running against former Nebraska Governor and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns. They also probably didn’t know that he’s 15 points down in the polls (though doing surprisingly well in the west of the state, which is traditionally redder than a baboon’s ass). What they did know is this: While most Democrats wouldn’t admit that “I’d like to have a beer with that guy” is a reason for voting for him – well, they’d like to have a beer with that guy. Event co-organizer Paul Hogarth (full disclosure: a longtime friend) said Kleeb’s little party netted the candidate just over $4,000.

By the time Kleeb bounded into Club Etiquette, it was steamy hot, which gave him the opportunity to loosen his tie and roll up his sleeves (which seems to be the preferred state for politicians to be photographed these days when meeting with “the people,” though most don’t have Kleeb’s working-man pedigree). When not running for higher office, he runs a cattle ranch and teaches history at Hastings College. Kleeb has a Ph.D in history from Yale, meaning he faces an uphill battle to win a Senate seat: Three of the most recent Ph.Ds in Senate history are Paul Wellstone, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Phil Gramm. Two of them are dead and the other is Phil Gramm.

When asked how it might play back home that Kleeb’s fund-raiser was in a nightclub bookended by a porn theatre and the most blighted building in all the Tenderloin – that served only Stella and Hoegaarden on tap -- he waved off the query like a pro. People in Nebraska care about the same things as the people of San Francisco, he claimed: Health care, the environment and the economy.

With all due respect, Kleeb shows a little too much deference to the people – and government -- of San Francisco. He was unaware, incidentally, that he’d arrived in the City by the Bay in the midst of Sea Otter Awareness Week – “In Nebraska we don’t have sea otters,” he explained. Apparently, In Nebraska they also don’t have a hard-on for useless, symbolic governmental measures, either.

Kleeb – introduced as “the hottest senate candidate in the country,” set the crowd’s heads a-nodding Ramones concert-style when he declared “I am the 50-state strategy.” When he bellowed “I love talking about Nebraska,” one of his fellow Nebraskans shrieked, “Yeaaah, Nebraska!” When he continued that we Californians mistakenly think of the Cornhusker State as a place where Democrats don’t exist, his fellow ‘Husker, perhaps inadvertently, shouted “That’s true!”

Kleeb’s speech in a dimly lit bar was not the Gettysburg Address. But he did talk about how his state – long seen as a vestige of the past – could be a pioneer in energy technology and help lead the way to a stronger America. In a nutshell, he was like Gavin Newsom – but with ideas that actually sound nuanced and practical – and a less ridiculous haircut.

As the party let up, Heidi Sieck -- hometown: Oakland, Neb. -- said it was great to see a fellow Nebraskan feted here in the City. Because she does not want to visit her home state -- "There's really no reason to go."

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