NE-Sen: The "Anti-Hagel" and The Democrats

From the diaries, jerome

This race has been and will continue to be my singular political focus for the foreseeable future. It's a fascinating look into the mindset of the Republican Party, with all the ingredients of a really nasty primary battle the likes of which this state hasn't seen in some time.

Well... almost all of the ingredients. See, Nebraska Attorney General has announced a primary challenge to Chuck Hagel - without any real indication that Hagel is actually running. He's positioning himself as the anti-Hagel in a race that Hagel might not even participate in.

Where it goes from here is anyone's guess. I predicted shortly after Bruning's March announcement that he was establishing an exploratory committee that Bruning was not interested in waiting for Hagel's decision. He would challenge Hagel, when the time was right. And, by doing so, he would expose a major divide within the Republican Party between the Hagel wing of the party and the anti-Hagel wing.

It goes beyond Hagel's politics - though that is Bruning's opening to run. It really is about Hagel's hold on the Republican Party. He may have lost it, already, as more and more Nebraska Republicans are openly distancing themselves from Chuck Hagel. He's quite publicly positioning himself as an independent - something that clearly isn't going to sit well with Republican Primary voters. So, Bruning's strategy is clear: to beat Chuck Hagel, he's going to position himself as Hagel's primary challenger. If Hagel drops out, Bruning will declare victory - claiming that his challenge pushed Hagel out of the race.

The longer Hagel waits to get into the race, the weaker his position will be. Bruning's already starting out in a very strong position for a challenger - his internal polling shows him with a 9% lead. And it's doubtful that Hagel's actions over the last three months have done anything to win over Republican voters.

A lot can change in eleven months, but at this point it's likely that Jon Bruning will be the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Nebraska. That is, quite frankly, frightening. Many of you will recall Ben Nelson's opponent in the 2006 race, a self-funding candidate named Pete Ricketts. But while the odious amounts of money Ricketts poured into his own campaign were disturbing, the most troubling aspect of Ricketts' campaign was his total lack of political morals. His complete disconnect from reality. Ricketts suggested, with a straight face, that Ben Nelson was a liberal like Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton. Not surprisingly, the message of "I'm a Republican, vote for me!" didn't resonate very well among Nebraskans who had a good sense of the kind of Senator Ben Nelson was.

Jon Bruning running for Senate should be a joke. Just over a decade ago, Bruning was a young law student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, writing articles praising Hillary Clinton and blasting conservatives for the Daily Nebraskan. (One particularly ironic article was titled "Conservatives, Come Out Of The Closet.") Now he's running as the champion of conservative values. This is a picture of a man with no political morals, no conviction other than the overwhelming desire to get elected.

He's also a political lightweight who has never been significantly challenged in any race he's ever been in. He's going to be in for a rude awakening when Hagel blasts him, but getting criticized by Chuck Hagel may actually help Bruning make his case. We need a Democrat who can make this a clear choice.

Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey has been a favorite of mine to run for Senate, but he seems more interested in running for a third term as mayor. I could still be wrong on this, but the entry of Kerrey into the discussion suggests that Fahey is losing interest in what would be a fierce battle, and Kerrey's stepping in to make sure we have a credible challenger. If Kerrey runs, Fahey won't. If Fahey runs, Kerrey won't. That much I know.

Scott Kleeb is a favorite of the netroots, but I've got to be honest, folks: we can't let Adrian Smith go unchallenged. He's an embarrassment to this state and his district. Kleeb is the only candidate who can beat Adrian Smith.

Bob Kerrey approached his former campaign manager (and the manager of both of Ben Nelson's and Mike Fahey's successful campaigns) to put some polling out in the field two months ago. Rumor has it the poll looked very good for Kerrey. Since then, he agreed to be the keynote speaker at the Nebraska Democratic Party's annual Morrison-Exon Dinner. Whatever his plans, it seems clear that Kerrey is not content to sit on the sidelines any longer. Though, like Fahey, he has promised to sit out if Hagel runs, a lot of the signs are pointing to Bob Kerrey being the Democratic candidate for Senate in '08.

Now, this isn't going to come as terrific news to many of you. We're still stinging from the recent supplemental bill, and Kerrey just recently penned an editorial blasting liberals on Iraq. But look past it for a moment. Bob Kerrey may be exactly what we need to take this seat back.

You'd be wrong to call Kerrey a "spineless" Democrat or a Lieberman clone. He speaks his mind quite freely, and he certainly has no love for the Bush administration. It'd be wrong to demand absolute party loyalty, especially from a Senator from Nebraska. I'm not a fan of the tone or the content of Kerrey's Iraq stance. But I'm not about to dismiss him as a candidate because of it.

Kerrey would school Jon Bruning, a political lightweight with no moral center and no beliefs. Bruning will haul out the charges of Kerrey being a "carpetbagger," which will be a joke by that point, as Bruning has already used that language to describe Chuck Hagel. Kerrey is one Nebraska Democrat who knows the art of a political smackdown, and that's precisely what we need against Jon Bruning.

In 2006, the choice was clear between a Democrat who had clearly and strongly represented the people of Nebraska, a Democrat who won 3 statewide elections; and a Republican who ran his campaign on the sole fact that he would be a Republican and Bush loyalist. Jon Bruning wishes to be the latter in this race. Bob Kerrey is the former. If we want to draw a clear distinction between the parties in this state, if we want to remind Nebraskans why the Democratic Party represents them better than the Republican Party, we need only to put Bob Kerrey up against Jon Bruning, and watch the rest fall into place.

Bob Kerrey for Senate? Jim Esch for Congress in NE-02? And Scott Kleeb for Congress in NE-03? That's a ticket I'd be proud to support.

Tags: 2008, Chuck Hagel, ne-sen (all tags)

Comments

6 Comments

Bob Kerrey?

Bob Kerrey?

An early and persistent advocate of the Iraq War.

2 weeks to go before the Conneticut general election and the guy is stumping in the state with Joe Lieberman.

Writes an editorial in 2000 saying that we were right to fight in Vietnam.

And this part, very few even think about anymore: One member of his Navy SEAL unit claims they killed civilians - elderly, women and children - at close range to protect the clandestine nature of their mission. Kerrey's response - flying every other member of his unit to Manhattan, having them sign an affidavit with an exculpatory version of the story, spends tens of thousands of dollars on a PR firm that puts the outliers alcoholism and DUI arrest in the news while trying to hold on to his standing as university president. In his book, "The Education of Lieutenant Kerrey," Gregory Vistica describes something that sounds very much like a bribe if he will lay off the story.

I know next to nothing about Nebraska politics, but I want to win the state with true progressives and do it the hard way - with organizing - rather than rely on millionaires who can somehow suppress public interest in the plsusible claim that he is a war criminal(at least until they are involved under the scrutiny of an election!).

The race does, indeed, sound fascinating and I hope Dave Sund stays on the trail and keeps us posted, but I would plead for us all to have a little bit more imagination as we push forward.

by memstrong1 2007-06-11 06:23AM | 0 recs
Re: NE-Sen: The "Anti-Hagel"

I agree- I'd rather not have a war criminal in the Senate democratic caucus.

by liberalminded 2007-06-11 09:11AM | 0 recs
IMHO, this is a decision for Nebraska Dems to make

Lord knows I can't stand Kerrey for a whole boatload of reasons.  But I'm not from Nebraska.  Like it says in The Music Man, I don't know the territory.  And even if Kerrey only votes the right way 40% of the time, that's 35% more often than even Chuck Hagel would.

by RT 2007-06-11 09:57AM | 0 recs
Re: NE-Sen: The "Anti-Hagel" and The Dem

Kerrey's record on social issues, on the other hand, is the best we could ever hope for from a Nebraska Democrat. He's been a staunch defender of civil rights and women's rights, and in this respect he's worlds better than his successor.

Now, is he a perfect candidate? No. Will I disagree with him on several issues? Sure. But would I rather have him than Chuck Hagel or Jon Bruning? You bet.

I don't want to create a false choice, here. Given the weakness of our bench in Nebraska - the three names I mentioned are the only three that could plausibly run a competitive campaign - there's no chance that we're going to see any sort of competitive primary.

However, our bench is strong enough that the new progressive voices are on the rise. Scott Kleeb in western Nebraska. Jim Esch in Omaha. They will be leaders in the Nebraska Democratic Party, but it's too early to ask either of these guys, both in their early 30s, to run for Senate.

Change comes in steps. In 2002, we didn't field a single credible candidate. In 2006, we came close to winning two races that no one gave us a chance in.

by Dave Sund 2007-06-11 11:10AM | 0 recs
Homeland security is still important

I think Homeland Security is still an important issue for many independents.

Bob Kerry's experience on the 9/11 Commission would add credibility for the Dems on Homeland Security, similar to the way someone like Jim Webb adds credibility on defense matters.

That will be helpful if the Dems want to run the table in 2008.

by Bush Bites 2007-06-11 12:12PM | 0 recs
Can't we do better?

One thing the 2006 elections taught us is that progressive candidates can win or come awfully close to winning.  

It's one thing to say that Kerrey's the best we're going to get in a state like Nebraska. I don't know if that's true, I don't know the territory either. But why are we celebrating a guy who defends the Iraq War AND the Vietnam War? Because he served on the 9/11 commission?  

At this point in time, when we can seek meaningful progressive change in the political arena, it's dangerous to give into the proto-realism that enthusiastically supports a guy we don't even expect to vote with us half the time.

by postess 2007-06-11 01:07PM | 0 recs

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