NE-Sen: The "Anti-Hagel" and The Democrats
by Dave Sund, Mon Jun 11, 2007 at 03:50:15 AM EDT
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.