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You could argue Barack Obama already has had an impact on Nebraska politics.

Democratic politics, at least.

To varying degrees, both Scott Kleeb and Jim Esch were prompted to add their names to this year’s ballot because Obama is likely to head the Democratic ticket.

Last month, Obama’s candidacy pumped most of the energy and vitality into the first-ever Democratic presidential caucuses in Nebraska.

Hillary Clinton’s supporters were just as passionate and committed, but there were twice as many Obama boosters.

And many of them were new voters or new Democrats.

In addition to that surge in Democratic energy, Kleeb and Esch recognize Obama would create a safer environment for Democrats in Nebraska in November than Clinton would.

That’s not criticism of her, nor a personal judgment, just a political fact of life.

Obama’s message blends well with those already enunciated by Kleeb and Esch. And, at least to a degree, by the other Democratic candidates.

Kleeb first must win a tough Democratic Senate primary race and Esch a 2nd District House contest before they can test the opportunity of attempting to ride the Obama wave in a landlocked Republican state.

If Obama wraps it up tomorrow, and let’s guess that happens, the long-term question will be how to sustain voter interest and enthusiasm for eight months.

That’s an eternity in terms of hanging onto people’s attention.

It’s amazing, and encouraging, how riveted the nation has been on all these contests, elections and caucuses over the past two months.

Keeping the country engaged could be Obama’s next challenge.

While John McCain has steadily marched to the Republican nomination, Obama has streaked overhead like a comet in the sky.

Slowing it down now is in McCain’s interest.

So, where do we go from here?

The election calendar says Wyoming and Mississippi.

But Texas and Ohio Democrats may say Denver.

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If this ends Tuesday by pointing Democrats to their national convention in August, that far-off big primary in Pennsylvania on April 22 won’t matter.

You gotta believe every TV station owner in Pennsylvania is rooting for Hillary tomorrow.

Outdated policyBacking up to catch Chuck Hagel’s comments about engagement with Cuba when he was questioned on CNN a week ago.

“On Cuba, I’ve said that we have an outdated, unrealistic, irrelevant policy,” he said.

“It’s always been nonsensical to me about this argument, well, it’s a communist country, it’s a communist regime.

“What do people think Vietnam is? Or the People’s Republic of China? Both those countries are WTO members. We trade with them. We have relations.

“Great powers engage,” Hagel said. “Great powers are not afraid. Great powers trade.”

Sensitive dutyPraise from John Kerry at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing for an unnamed “young Navy commander from Nebraska” performing sensitive duty in Afghanistan.

The officer is engaged with an Afghan provincial reconstruction team and he briefed Kerry, Hagel and Joe Biden during their recent trip to Afghanistan.

He was “unbelievably impressive to all of us in his ability to brief us on every single tribe, the leaders, knowledge of their history, a sense of who the players were and what the dynamics were between them,” Kerry said.

“And he really understood politics and, while wearing a uniform, his effort was to try to separate the enemy from the people without using the military.

“But that presence does make a difference,” Kerry said during an exchange with Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte.

Best he remain unnamed.

Finishing up* Tony Raimondo on Kleeb’s entry into the Democratic Senate race: “I learned in business that competition always makes you better.”

* FDR retained top spot in Zogby’s newest poll ranking modern U.S. presidents. Next, in order,: JFK, Reagan, Truman, Eisenhower.

* Hagel will be honored at the University of Maryland tonight with the Millard E. Tydings Award for Courage and Leadership in American Politics. Then, he’ll do a town hall with students.

* Ben Nelson has asked Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey to draft a plan to address challenges facing the Army, including increased costs of health and mental health care, and equipment shortages.

* Ah, March.

Reach Don Walton at 473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

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