Thursday, May 17, 2012

Holding Their Noses

As Johnathan Bernstein pointed out in the Washington Post on Wednesday, if you've only been watching the cable "news" networks in the wake of Tuesday's elections, you may not have heard much about one of the most important political races of the year - especially from people who know what they're talking about in Nebraska politics.

What you may have heard about was the supposedly surprising upset by Nebraska state senator Deb Fischer, of both Attorney General John Bruning, and State Treasurer Don Stenberg, in the Nebraska Republican Primary race for U.S. Senate.

What you likely didn't hear about is an accurate accounting of how it happened - or what that race may mean in the greater context of the 2012 elections.

To start with, as any Nebraskan who pays attention to state politics knows, Deb Fischer is no Tea Party candidate. On more than a few occasions, Fischer has reached across the left-right political divide, in Nebraska's nominally non-partisan Legislature, to attempt to compromise on issues. For that reason alone, true Tea Party Republicans want nothing to do with Fischer. Everyone knows Tea Partiers don't compromise with anyone.

That didn't stop many less informed national media sources from jumping to the assumption that - because of the endorsement from Sarah Palin - Fischer was a Tea Party Republican. When it comes to Palin, reliable sources we know have made it clear: Palin's advisors saw the high likelihood of Fischer's win, due to the intra-party squabbling between Bruning and Stenberg, and Palin dropped her endorsement at the last minute, in a thinly-veiled attempt to prove the former half-term Alaska governor is still politically relevant. Any pundit who points to this race, and thinks Palin can still "pick 'em" is quite obviously a naive hack.

The Tea Party types have never been comfortable with Fischer - but Fischer hasn't always "played ball" the way the Nebraska Republican party elite have wanted her too, either. Their support for her, like their support for Mitt Romney, will likely be not truly heartfelt this year.

Before Tuesday's race, Matt K. Lewis, at the conservative Daily Caller, had a great example of who Fischer really is for the GOP - Nebraska's version of Mike Rounds, the former governor of South Dakota. Rounds got to the Governor's office when the major two factions of his party declared war on each other - and Rounds slipped into a victory.

For Republicans, the lesson of Fischer's win is simple; the internal civil war among the different factions of the party is going to cause them some serious headaches this election cycle. There are many other races around the country that are shaping up similar to the race Fischer won - and we think the GOP elite have yet to realize how vulnerable they really are.

For Democrats, the Nebraska primary is proof of a concept we've been pointing out for some time: There are serious fault lines in the Republican Party. If Democrats want to win, all they have to do is help Republicans to politically annihilate one another. In many cases, that just means Democrats should have the wisdom stay out of Republican intra-party battles, much as Bob Kerrey did in Nebraska.

For every American, the takeaway from Fischer's win should be about the money. If it wasn't for the last minute flood of outside funds that we pointed out earlier this week, it's highly likely Fischer would have lost. That fact became even more clear when looking at the county-by-county vote totals. Outside of winning the heavily rural areas of Central and Western Nebraska, the place Fischer cashed in is the Sioux City media market - where most of the late race cash was dumped.

Now, Fischer turns to face former Senator Bob Kerrey - and we have to admit we like Sen. Kerrey's chances against the untested Fischer. That said, we also acknowledge that - as our own Paul Fell has said for many years now - some Nebraskans will vote for anyone with an "R" next to their name, even the Devil himself.

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