Political Animal


May 16, 2012 9:05 AM The Ol’ Murder-Suicide Scenario

By Ed Kilgore

As the late trends suggested, state senator Deb Fishcher emerged from the back of a three-candidate pack and edged attorney general Jon Bruning for the GOP Senate nomination in Nebraska, leaving the darling of national right-wing groups, state treasurer Don Stenberg, in the dust at a distant third.

Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling, which did a last-minute poll illustrating Fischer’s surge into the lead, offered this analysis yesterday:

This race reminds me a lot of the 2009 Democratic race for Governor of Virginia where front runners Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran beat each other up, plunged their favorability numbers, and allowed Creigh Deeds to come out looking like a saint in comparison. Deeds just kept on picking up momentum and ended up winning by an even larger margin than expected.

Given Bruning’s huge early lead and the aggressive pounding he took from the Club for Growth and Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservative Fund (who both backed Stenberg), I’d say the contest was more like one of those classic murder-suicide cases, such as the 1998 California Democratic governor’s race, where Al Checchi did nothing but run negative ads on Jane Harman, making lightly-regarded Gray Davis the nominee. It’s a reminder that negative campaigning is risky when multiple candidates are in a race but not all are targets.

In case anyone’s looking at Fischer and seeing Sharron Angle or Christine O’Donnell or a Richard Mourdock—you know, a Tea Party-fed upset producing a wacko nominee who may be vulnerable in the general election—Jensen’s analysis makes it clear that ideology is not what drove her primary campaign. The PPP poll actually showed Bruning enjoying his highest favorability numbers among “very conservative” voters, while Fischer was most popular among moderates. If she’s any crazier than all the other Republican candidates running around calling themselves “true conservatives” and attacking each other for even thinking about cooperating with Democrats, it’s not evident just yet. But Bob Kerrey’s campaign needs to get in gear and define her for a general electorate that doesn’t know her that well.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • SadOldVet on May 16, 2012 9:17 AM:

    Damn right that the Kerry Campaign needs to define her because right, wrong, or indifferent truth is not relevant!

  • c u n d gulag on May 16, 2012 9:23 AM:

    Ah, yes, Bob 'DINO' Kerrey - our last, best, hope in NE.


    'Nuff said!

  • Gene O'Grady on May 16, 2012 10:08 AM:

    Can we lay off Gray Davis already? He had a substantial legislative record that you knew about if you were in California and were active in public affairs. The Davis-Sterling Act, which he co-authored, is the single most useful state law I ever encountered. If you don't know what it is, be quiet until you take the time to find out.

  • Tired Liberal on May 16, 2012 10:43 AM:

    Fischer is a reliably right wing conservative. Her biggest legacy in the Nebraska legislature is a bill that locks in spending on highways at the expense of every other type of spending. Her "grass roots" campaign was helped by huge negative ad campaigns financed by outside pacs--Club for Growth ran negative ads against the assumed frontrunner, and a Joe Ricketts pac supported Fischer by running negative ads against her opponents.

    As a state with small numbers of voters, Nebraska will be considered a "cheap purchase" for those who want buy another Republican seat in the Senate. Carl Rove's pac started purchasing anti-Kerrey spots as soon as he announced he was running. It will be ugly.

  • liam foote on May 16, 2012 11:06 AM:

    Bob Kerrey has a shot at regaining his Senate seat, to which he was previously elected twice by double digit marging, mainly because he is a former Navy SEAL who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroic service in Viet Nam.

    Outside money will continue to pour into Nebraska for this race and, as Tired Liberal notes above, it will be ugly. And, to make if even uglier, Ms. Palin will likely seek to be prominent.

  • CharlieM on May 16, 2012 11:17 AM:

    Kerry needs to define her? Sarah Palin already has - with a pre-primary endorsement. In a sane world, this would be the only thing needed to ensure Kerry a landslide victory.

    -which tells you all you need to know about "moderates" in Nebraska.

    There's a reason Nebraska is a fly-over state. The same reason that most people avoid any other lunatic asylum.

  • Hannah on May 16, 2012 11:51 AM:

    Meanwhile, in my red-area of OR, our moderate R state senator was defeated in the primary by a far right tea partier (and former state rep). Great... I wasn't fond of the incumbent but at least she's reasonable and willing to work across the aisle. The Dem candidate has no chance this fall. I'm moving to another area of the state, but this decision will still affect me since this TPer clown will be in the state senate.

  • 2Manchu on May 16, 2012 12:52 PM:

    Bruning got hammered by the Omaha World Herald for some financial deals he made while AG, that seemed a little shady. I think that may have hurt him a bit.

    Right now Deb Fischer is trying to attach the "carpetbagger" label to Kerrey, and claim to be the "true" Nebraskan in the race.

    Just ignore the fact that Bob Kerrey was born in Nebraska, attended Lincoln Northwest, graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was a popular governor from 1983 to 1987, then served two terms as a similarily popular U.S. senator. He also owned a number of successful resturants in Omaha (I actually worked at one in high school) and Lincoln.

    Oh, and there's a popular pedestrian bridge in Omaha named after him.

    Besides all that, I guess he did have a number of years outside of Nebraska, first as a highly decorated Navy SEAL in Vietnam, then as a university president.

    Yep, can't get more "carpetbaggy" than that.

    Seriously, Deb, why not just call yourself more "Nebraskan" than Coach Osborne?

    Go Big Red.