The Long Shot and the Colonel

The DFL picked neophyte Teresa Daly to unseat Bush lapdog John Kline in the conservative Second District. Does she even have a chance?

Even so, Daly faces a decidedly uphill battle. The Cook Political Report, a nationally respected journal of Beltway prognostication, lists the race as "likely Republican." And most political observers believe it would take a seismic shift in the political landscape-on a par with the Republican landslide of 1994 or the fallout from the Wellstone memorial in 2002-to give Daly a decent shot at prevailing. "I think that the fact that Kline beat a well-funded, strong, Democratic incumbent last time around really speaks to how tough it will be for Daly to win in this district," says Amy Walter, the Cook Political Report's congressional expert. "By the numbers, it is a Republican district."

Daly's a decidedly moderate DFLer, more in the mode of Democrat-turned-Independent Tim Penny than Paul Wellstone. She's charismatic and articulate on subjects that are part of the daily political discourse: Iraq, No Child Left Behind, Social Security. But she sometimes falters when forced to ad lib, struggling to make small talk on the stump or respond to policy questions that she hasn't previously vetted.

When asked if she supports the Dream Act, a federal legislative proposal that would allow undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for at least five years to receive in-state tuition rates at public universities, Daly initially offers boilerplate pabulum ("America is a nation of immigrants..."). When further pressed on the issue, she punts. "It's very complicated," Daly ventures. "I have read parts of that Dream Act, but I'm not sure that I know enough about it to really comment on it intelligently today."

Tony Nelson

At times her political inexperience has been apparent. In the first face-to-face debate between the two candidates earlier this month in Eagan, Daly stated that she supported doubling the number of active Army divisions. When Kline expressed disbelief that she really wanted to double the size of the Army, Daly failed to amend her stand. Only after consulting with her staff when the debate was over did Daly explain to the media that she'd meant to say that she supported adding two army divisions.

Such gaffes have led some DFLers to lament that Coleen Rowley-the high-profile FBI whistleblower who briefly flirted with entering the race-ultimately decided not to take on Kline. There's an uneasy worry that this is the best the Democrats could muster against a vulnerable incumbent.

As with presidential candidate John Kerry at the national level, Daly's painstaking moderation has made it difficult to distinguish herself on arguably the most pressing issue of the campaign-ted that she would have voted for the resolution to authorize the president's use of force. "The information that we had from our president was that we were under imminent threat, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, that he intended to use them, and he intended to use them soon," she notes. "That's what I base that decision on."

But when asked if she would still support such a resolution today-even after it's been conclusively shown that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, a functional nuclear arms program, or significant ties to al Qaeda-she dodges the question. "I think our conversation is better spent around what are we going to do now," she says.

 

There's no question where John Kline stands on the war in Iraq. He's been an enthusiastic supporter since day one, hardly questioning the president's policies even as the insurgency-and the American body count-has swelled. "Assumptions were made in wartime and some of them were wrong," Kline admits during a phone interview from his office in Washington. He acknowledges that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction and that the insurgency has proven much more resilient than anticipated. Yet he still insists that the administration's actions in Iraq have been justified and effective: "Have we made mistakes? Absolutely. And are we going to make some more? Yep, we are."

Kline's support for President Bush certainly does not end with the Iraq war. He's a staunch conservative Republican who voted with his party some 98 percent of the time over the last two years, a loyalty rate higher than that of any other member of the Minnesota congressional delegation. "I have been on the record saying many times that I vote overwhelmingly as a conservative Republican," Kline says. "That's how I campaigned. That's what I told people I would do."

Like President Bush, he's a devoted believer in the sanctity of the free market, endorsing such dubious Republican propositions as partially privatizing Social Security. In the past, Kline has spoken admirably of the prospect of a national sales tax replacing the income tax. And last month, he was named a "Friend of the Taxpayer" by Americans for Tax Reform, the chief conservative advocates for dismantling the federal tax system.

The former Texan's political persona is culled entirely from his background as a Marine officer. He prefers Colonel Kline to Congressman Kline. At every opportunity he reminds voters that he carried the "nuclear football" for presidents Reagan and Carter, meaning he was responsible for safeguarding the codes needed to detonate a missile. Even after a full term in Congress, Kline's first commercials in the 2004 campaign make no mention of issues, instead focusing on his days as a nuclear nanny.

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