Fischer’s campaign said it began to sense momentum a few weeks ago but opted to keep the evidence under wraps so as not to tip off opponents. Then last week, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) endorsed Fischer. Both Palin and her husband, Todd, have done robocalls for Fischer in recent days. And over the weekend, wealthy Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts put money behind a third-party negative ad buy. Ricketts’ son Pete unsuccessfully challenged Nelson in 2006.
Few Nebraska Republicans point to the Palin nod as a game changer. But they say Palin’s backing and other late endorsements reinforced the perception that Fischer has momentum.
Several factors, including the Club for Growth’s negative advertising against Bruning, Palin’s endorsement of Fischer and Stenberg’s inability to capitalize on outside support, combined late to boost Fischer, some say. And she found her footing in a limited window when there was not enough time for the other candidates to retaliate with pervasive negative advertising.
But others say her surge happened too late. Bruning had an organized get-out-the-vote effort for early voting. There is speculation that he could lose Election Day but that the early vote tallies will put him over the top.
“We feel like we are in a very strong position,” Bruning media consultant Brooks Kochvar said when asked about the role of early voting. “We are the only campaign with an effective grass-roots organization engaged in the race.”
Yet many remained stunned. The knives are not out for Bruning and his team like they tend to be when frontrunners hit rocky ground just before Election Day. There is just a sense that the stars aligned to make his march to the nomination much more difficult.
“That’s a pedigree for success,” the unaligned Nebraska Republican added. “You’re going to have a lot of people scratching their heads if he doesn’t pull it off.”
Regardless of the nominee, both parties have been preparing for months for what could be a banner general election. Former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey’s decision to run for his old job has made predictions that the GOP would flip this seat much less certain.