Late last month, GOP nominee and State Senator Deb Fischer declined an invitation from Cornhusker Boys State and Girls State to debate former U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey in Lincoln on June 5. Ms. Fischer's excuse was that she had "prior commitments." As it turned out, Ms. Fischer was in Washington, D.C. attending fundraisers sponsored by special interest groups.
After that, Kerrey proposed that he Fischer have seven debates in the run-up to the November election. Bob Kerrey proposed that a debate be held in each of the state's three congressional districts and be done in the Lincoln-Douglas style, with each candidate taking turns speaking and posing questions for two hours. "I can think of no better way for Nebraskans to compare and contrast the candidates for Senate than in Lincoln-Douglas style formats," Kerrey said in his release. "I want to have beneficial discussions about how we plan to address the issues." Fischer's campaign spokesman lamely responded by saying that Fischer will get back to the Kerrey campaign "at the appropriate time."
Earlier today, Fischer relented and agreed to the State Fair Debate with Kerrey on August 25 - which is more than two and half months away. Fischer's agreement to appear at the State Fair debate should be put into the context of the fact that Fischer participated in seven debates in the GOP Senate primary cycle. In addition, Fischer sought a "lot of debates" during the primary, saying "I plan to be at every debate I'm invited to."
Fischer's reluctance to debate Kerrey makes her look weak and cowardly. Just what is she afraid of? She should have more confidence in her knowledge of the issues and her debating skills. People with ties to the Legislature tell me that Ms. Fischer is intelligent and a skilled debater in the Unicameral. At first blush, Ms. Fischer's apparent fear to take on Kerrey appears to be rather baffling.
What may be truly at work here is a more cynical strategy on the part of Ms. Fischer. She is probably hoping to repeat her strategy from the primary. In the primary cycle, Fischer avoided the fray, stayed very vague on the issues and let the Super PACs destroy Jon Bruning. That may be her strategy in the general election. Well placed sources in the Kerrey campaign have told me that they expect GOP aligned Super PACs to spend $10 million in outside, special interest money between now and Election Day.
Nebraska voters deserve better from Ms. Fischer. She needs to come out of her protective cocoon and tell Nebraskans in specific terms where she plans to cut $1 trillion from the budget. It's not enough to repeat the tired GOP talking points about cutting spending and cutting taxes without providing any specifics. It's also not enough to support a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. That is a cop out. Ms. Fischer should have the courage to propose an actual balanced budget.
On the other hand, Senator Kerrey actually made courageous votes in favor of deficit cutting legislation in 1990 and 1993 that resulted in several balanced budgets in the late 1990s. In addition, Kerrey is out on the campaign trail talking about the tough choices we need to make to reduce the deficit. It is Senator Kerrey who is running a campaign worthy of the voters. Nebraskans should reject Fischer's cynical approach and reward Bob Kerrey's courage by voting for him for the U.S. Senate this fall.