Magazine article The New Yorker

Where's the Beef?

Magazine article The New Yorker

Where's the Beef?

Article excerpt

As our thoughts turn to Denver, it's tempting to imagine that the political stagecraft on view will be different this time--that after eight years of watching our leaders hunting quail and clearing brush in front of television cameras the country will have got over its thing for cowboy statesmen. Wrangling, roping, and a fondness for pork rinds no longer seem like the best indicators for leadership abilities.

As it happens, a cowboy arrived in New York last week: Scott Kleeb, a thirty-two-year-old senatorial candidate from Nebraska. Kleeb (pronounced "Kleb") is best known, among Nebraska liberals, for being a bright, blue hope in a red state: a charismatic beef farmer with a Ph.D. from Yale. To others, he's the guy who was sabotaged, during his first congressional campaign, in 2006, by a series of fake middle-of-the-night robo-calls, which greeted groggy voters with a recording of his voice: "Hi, this is Scott Kleeb!" (The investigation concluded this year; the calls couldn't be traced.) He's also known, locally, for having defeated his current opponent, the ex-Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, in a milking contest (painful, since Johanns is the son of a dairy farmer). And congressional-race watchers call him "the hot rancher": Kleeb is six feet three, and he tends to wear tight Wranglers for publicity shoots. He looks, it has been pointed out on political blogs, something like the young David Hasselhoff.

Last Wednesday, the fund-raising group Think Blue hosted a cocktail party in Kleeb's honor in a Chelsea apartment. The invitation urged guests to welcome "our favorite Democratic cowboy": "Enjoy BBQ and an ice cold beer or stick to wine and cheese. . . . Your call, just leave the bull riding to the candidate (seriously, he knows how)." There were chicken wings, sausages, and buckets of beer. (Earlier, Kleeb had eaten a bacon burger at Ted's Montana Grill with a Nebraskan pal from the Willa Cather Foundation.) Someone was selling twenty-dollar tank tops that said "I Only Sleep with Democrats." Kleeb stood off to the side, his thumbs hooked in the front pockets of his Wranglers. He had on a striped cowboy shirt and dusty boots. He opened a bottle of Rolling Rock with a lighter.

"He's the most all-American candidate I've ever met," Sarah Rothman, a public-relations executive, said. …

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