State Senator Deb Fischer's victory over Attorney General Jon Bruning in the Nebraska Senate primary was one of the biggest upsets in Nebraska political history and a bit of a fluke. Just how did a little known State Senator who didn't campaign full time and was substantially out raised by long time front runner Bruning pull off this monumental upset?
In my opinion, the biggest factor in the race was the spending of outside Super PACs. The Club For Growth and Senator Jim Demint's (R-SC) PAC - in an effort to elect Stenberg - dropped $2 million of negative advertising on Bruning. The coup de grace was the $300,000 in negative ads financed by Joe Ricketts over the weekend before the election that blasted Bruning's exploitation of his public service for vast financial gain. Those ads seemed to crystallize the doubts that many Republican voters had about Bruning.
What we have now is a Republican Senate nominee that was made possible by the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial ruling in Citizens United that opened up the door to unlimited and secret spending by outside groups in political campaigns. Senator Ben Nelson said it best: "There's no question that special interest money won that election." Bob Kerrey said he wants to know what happens when Fischer hears from Joe Ricketts. "When he calls on her, what's he going to get," asked Kerrey. "What does (Rickett's) want, lower taxes? Probably. Does he want less regulation? Probably."
This massive intervention by the special interests make Fischer's victory a bit of a fluke. During most of the campaign, Fischer had the lowest name recognition among the three leading Republican candidates, the smallest amount of campaign money and she campaigned the least because she was tied down in Lincoln for more than three months during the 2012 legislative session. Fischer mainly won because outside money destroyed the frontrunner, not because of any particular thing she did or said during her campaign.
Fischer's upset of Bruning probably marks the end of Bruning's political career. Bruning was a politician who had never been in a tough race in his life. Due to his charmed political career, Bruning had faced little scrutiny or accountability until the 2012 campaign. Bruning took advantage of that lack of scrutiny by exploiting his public service to make himself a very, very wealthy man. Somehow Bruning was able to amass a net worth in the tens of millions of dollars on a government salary of $95,000.00 per year. Ultimately, it was Bruning's greed and exploitation of his public service that brought him down. Bruning's now tarnished reputation makes him politically radioactive and makes it very unlikely he can ever run for higher office again. Bruning's downfall is one of the most significant outcomes of this campaign.
What lies ahead in the general election? The Nebraska U.S. Senate race will be one of the marquee races in the country. What happens here in Nebraska could very well determine which party will control the Senate.
On the Republican side, we have a nominee who has served eight years in the Nebraska Legislature. Fischer's biggest "accomplishments" were raising the gas tax and diverting money from education to earmark for roads. The GOP nominee is also a bitter partisan. She has promised to draw a sharp contrast with Kerrey and failed to identify one Democratic Senator she could work with if she is elected.
On the other hand, Bob Kerrey is a genuine war hero who has served his country with distinction in the Navy SEALs, as Governor of Nebraska, in the U.S. Senate and on the 9/11 Commission. Kerrey has a record of accomplishment and reaching across party lines to get things done. As Kerrey said today: "I will not be a reliable vote for my caucus. I will be a reliable vote for Nebraskans. Now the voters of Nebraska face a simple choice - partisanship or leadership."
In my opinion, most Nebraska voters are practical people - not partisans - who want to see our great country move ahead and make progress. In the end, a majority of Nebraskans will choose Bob Kerrey because he has the best chance to help our country solve its problems.