Same Party but Two Very Different Candidates

June 24, 2010 · 9:00 AM EDT

As we crawl toward November, I’m fortunate to interview more and more candidates. Each candidate is unique, but I don’t know that I’ve seen two so very different candidates in a matter of one hour as I did recently, when I interviewed Arizona Democratic Senate hopeful Rodney Glassman and then Ohio Democratic Congressional hopeful Paula Brooks.

Brooks, 55, is a two-term Franklin County (Columbus) commissioner who is challenging five-term Republican Rep. Patrick Tiberi in the 12th district. She was elected to the commission in 2004 after serving two terms on the Upper Arlington City Council. She was re-elected in 2008.

I’m not sure whether Brooks can knock off Tiberi in the current environment, but I am sure that she is a terrific candidate. I liked her a great deal.

Personable and well-spoken, Brooks struck me as someone who thinks seriously about issues and about how to make a difference. She seems approachable, not because she is some smiling back-slapper, but because she seems interested in people and in solving problems.

Brooks peppers her answers to questions with references to votes she cast and issues she took on. Unlike some candidates who rely on prepared talking points and automatic responses, she actually thought before answering questions.

But Brooks is running in what is going to be a difficult year for Democrats. Her bent seems predictably liberal, and she falls back on the usual lines of attack against Tiberi — including blaming the nation’s and state’s current problems on President George W. Bush, a line of attack that is not likely to be particularly effective in the fall.

While Tiberi serves on the Ways and Means Committee and is close to Minority Leader John Boehner (a fellow Ohio Republican), he hasn’t been a robot for his party. CQ’s Politics in America 2010 noted that Tiberi voted to boost fuel efficiency standards, supported the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and was one of only 35 Republicans to back a measure outlawing employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In addition, he initially opposed the Troubled Asset Relief Program but eventually voted for the final bill after heavy lobbying from the White House and Boehner.

Tiberi’s district went for President Barack Obama 54 percent to 44 percent, but it went for Bush narrowly in 2004, 51 percent to 49 percent. We’ll see whether Brooks, who trailed Tiberi 2 to 1 in fundraising and 3 to 1 in cash on hand as of April 14, can actually win given the national Republican advantage, but I’m pretty sure that Democrats couldn’t have come up with a better candidate.

Glassman, a 32-year-old Arizonan, is a whole different kind of candidate.

Glassman grew up in Fresno, Calif., but finished high school in Chicago so that he could play ice hockey. He attended Cornell University for a year before moving to Arizona to join his family.

Unlike Brooks, who put herself through Youngstown State by working as a hairdresser and then went to Capital University Law School at night, Glassman holds a B.A. (1999), an MBA (2001), an MPA (2002), a Ph.D. (2005) and a law degree (2007) — all from the University of Arizona.

Did I mention he worked for Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) in 2002, was a consultant to KB Home Tucson (2004-2007), served for three years on the board of the Arizona Farm Bureau, was elected to the Tucson City Council in 2007, was commissioned in the Air Force JAG program in 2008 and got married in 2009?

Just a busy, successful young man? Maybe, but this looks more like somebody trying to put together the perfect résumé to run for Congress. I’d be shocked if Glassman didn’t already have his 2020 presidential campaign sketched out somewhere.

Glassman, whose only full-time job has been working for a Congressman for less than a year, has loaned his campaign $250,000. He earned that money, he told me, during his time consulting with KB Home and when he managed his family’s ice skating rink in Tucson. He started earning $24,000 a year at the ice rink and eventually earned six figures a year. (This fact should spur job applications to ice skating rinks around the country and particularly in the Southwest.)

Although he launched an exploratory committee last year, Glassman didn’t file as a candidate until April 8 of this year, and he has not yet filed a fundraising report with the Federal Election Commission. His June 30 FEC report will show about, or possibly in excess of, $750,000 raised.

Glassman is tall (6 feet 6 inches), confident and smooth talking. During my interview with him, he had a broad smile that never disappeared. He had a quick retort to every question, and he wasn’t averse to trying to turn the table and ask his own question of the questioner.

While Glassman talks about his broad range of support from business and labor, his views are consistently liberal. He supports the Democratic health care reform measure, the stimulus and the Employee Free Choice Act (“card check,” to Republicans), and he opposes S.B. 1070, the illegal immigrant bill recently passed by the Arizona Legislature.

Some of those positions may fly in Brooks’ district, but they will be viewed differently in Arizona.

Glassman’s criticisms of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) don’t even deserve serious mention, but the Democrat may have a road to victory if former Rep. J.D. Hayworth happens to upset McCain in the Republican primary in late August.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Glassman eventually has a long career in politics even if McCain beats him like a drum in November. It’s pretty obvious that the young political wannabe will do whatever he needs to do to make his mark.