Metzl, Kobach Have Great Résumés, But Can They Win?

Posted September 12, 2003 at 2:20pm

Everyone who follows House recruiting knows this has been a slow-developing cycle. That’s why it’s noteworthy that each party has one candidate running for the House who has an unusually strong résumé, and who clearly sees the House as a stepping stone to even higher political office.[IMGCAP(1)]

Based on their education and early accomplishments, Democrat Jamie Metzl and Republican Kris Kobach have star quality. But both Congressional hopefuls face difficult roads ahead this cycle, and each will have to demonstrate that his personal appeal outside the Beltway is as strong as his résumé.

Kobach faces a tough primary and general election in Kansas’ 3rd district, while Metzl has his eye on Missouri’s 5th. If you look at a map, you’ll notice that they are running in contiguous districts.

Kobach, 37, graduated summa cum laude from Harvard, received a doctorate in politics from Oxford (where he was a Marshall Scholar) and earned a J.D. from Yale. Elected to the Overland City Council at age 33, he joined the faculty of the University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Law in 1996. He is now a tenured full professor, though he has been on a leave of absence during the past few years.

The GOP hopeful served as a White House fellow in the office of Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2001-2002, then became counsel to Ashcroft, with specific responsibilities for immigration and border control issues. He recently left the Justice Department to make the House race.

Metzl, 35, graduated from Brown, received a Ph.D. in Southeast Asian history from Oxford and a law degree from Harvard Law School.

Like Kobach, Metzl was a White House fellow. The class of 1997-1998 also included Rep. Brad Carson (D-Okla.) and 2004 Congressional hopeful Jon Jennings, the early favorite to be the Democratic nominee against Rep. John Hostettler (R) in Indiana’s 8th district.

After two years in Cambodia for the United Nations, and some time at the National Security Council and the State Department, Metzl spent a year at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace. Later, he became deputy staff director (under Delaware Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden) on the Foreign Relations Committee, and had a brief stop at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he worked on a report about emergency responders after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Metzl, whose first novel is scheduled for publication next year, has run in 20 marathons and just completed his third Ironman triathlon competition.

Not to be outdone, Kobach’s books include “The Referendum: Direct Democracy in Switzerland” and “Political Capital: The Motives, Tactics, and Goals of Politicized Businesses in South Africa.” He has won two national rowing championships in double sculls.

While Metzl is making his first run for office, Kobach has won one city council race and lost one primary for the state Senate. Kobach is a former president of the College Republicans at Harvard.

Metzl is Jewish and single. Kobach, an Episcopalian, is married and has one child.

Kobach’s road to Congress in 2004 is a very difficult one. Two other credible Republicans currently are in the race, 2002 nominee Adam Taff and state Rep. Patricia Lightner.

Taff, a relatively moderate Republican who won an ideological primary last year and almost upset Rep. Dennis Moore (D) in November, starts out with name recognition and experience as a House candidate. Lightner, like Kobach, is a conservative, and that makes her an immediate hurdle for him in the contest to challenge Moore next year.

The Kansas 3rd is ground zero in the GOP’s civil war between moderates and conservatives, and Kobach, whose campaign literature lists “protecting the sanctity of human life” as a priority, is one of the combatants. While he is smart, well educated, thoughtful, articulate and unquestionably qualified for Congress, he faces a difficult primary numbers game if another conservative is also in a three-way race.

Metzl is equally smart, well educated, thoughtful, articulate and ready for Congress. But, unless circumstances change, he’s headed for a primary fight against a sitting Member of Congress, Rep. Karen McCarthy (D).

The Congresswoman has acknowledged a problem with alcohol, and she has taken steps to deal with it. At this point, she seems to be running for re-election. But her problems give any credible primary opponent, including someone such as Metzl, an opening, and some observers wonder whether McCarthy might eventually decide that she isn’t interested in putting herself through an expensive primary.

If Kobach and/or Metzl succeed in winning election to Congress next year, it’s difficult to imagine him sitting in the House for decades. Both men are clearly ambitious politically, with statewide office a logical next step. But their near-term futures are in doubt, depending on some decisions that will be made by others, not by themselves. And they’ll have to connect with real, live voters, many of whom won’t be all that impressed by their Ivy League degrees.