Republicans are dismissing any talk that former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) has found his footing in the Nebraska Senate race, but that hasn’t stopped the GOP from redoubling its efforts for state Sen. Deb Fischer (R).
“There is a lot of enthusiasm out there for” Fischer, Nebraska Republican Party Executive Director Jordan McGrain said.
Nebraska Republicans have the advantage in early voting, and investments by the Republican National Committee and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign in the more Kerrey-friendly, urban 2nd district will also help, McGrain added.
In contrast to 2008, “the Romney campaign and the RNC have made a tremendous investment in the 2nd district,” McGrain said. “Turnout there is going to be strong for ... Romney; I think that is going to help Deb Fischer in the place where Bob Kerrey is strongest and she is going to kick his tail in the western part of the state.”
Added to the mix is the scheduled Friday appearance of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). McCain, who ran for president in 2008, is set to campaign for Fischer in Omaha, which anchors the 2nd district. In 2008, President Barack Obama won that district, which added one electoral vote to his tally. Nebraska awards its electoral votes district by district.
Adding to the Republican firepower is the GOP-aligned American Crossroads, which this week announced plans to spend $420,000 on the race.
Kerrey's campaign is seeking to upstage McCain's visit and further feed the narrative that the race is tightening with a high-powered and significant endorsement today. Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) will endorse Kerrey at two events this afternoon. Hagel, a moderate who retired in 2008, served with Kerrey in the Senate and both men are Vietnam veterans.
Recent independent polling that showed a tightening race set off the latest turn of events. Over the weekend, the Omaha World-Herald released a poll of 800 registered voters conducted by Wiese Research Associates that showed Kerrey at 46 percent and Fischer at 49 percent. That poll was conducted Oct. 23-25 and had a 3.5-point margin of error.
On Monday, Pharos Research Group released a poll of 761 likely voters showing Kerrey at 47 percent and Fischer at 50 percent. That poll was conducted Oct. 26-28. Fischer’s campaign says its internal polls show her with a double-digit lead, while Kerrey’s campaign says its polling shows a single-digit race.
“Deb Fischer squandered a double-digit lead and her campaign is plummeting as Nebraskans have learned about her attempts to take land from her elderly neighbors and her subsequent abuse of power in the Nebraska Legislature,” Kerrey campaign spokesman Chris Triebsch said. “Polls show the race is a statistical tie and the Fischer campaign has hit the panic button.”
Republicans argued that previous Omaha World-Herald polls have overstated Democrats’ chances.
The same day the paper’s poll was released, Fischer campaign manager Aaron Trost issued a memo detailing five instances when the paper was off the mark.
“I believe the survey they released today is similar to these past examples; I expect Senator Fischer to win on Election Day by double digits,” Trost said in the memo.
The Fischer camp also attempted to cast doubt on Kerrey pollster Harrison Hickman, repeating media reports that he issued polls to make former Sen. John Edwards seem more viable in the waning days of his bid to become the 2008 Democratic nominee for president.
“Bob Kerrey released numbers from the very same disgraced pollster who recently admitted under oath that he cherry-picked numbers to boost John Edwards’ struggling presidential campaign. It’s déjà vu all over again,” Fischer campaign spokesman Daniel Keylin wrote in an email last month.
“This poll is a complete work of fiction that contradicts every public poll,” Keylin said of Kerrey’s internal poll showing a single-digit lead for Fischer.
Kevin Smith, a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln agreed that the election is Fischer’s to lose but said he was surprised with how close the race appears to be in a “rock solid red state.”
“Everybody expected the race to narrow because that is the nature of these elections, but if the Omaha World-Herald poll is accurate and Kerrey is within three points, I am a little taken aback by that,” Smith said.
Despite Fischer’s allegations about the accuracy of the Omaha World-Herald poll, he said that it does appear that the race has tightened, which he attributes to negative ads that Kerrey has been running attacking Fischer’s character.
“Kerrey has been running a series of pretty hard-hitting ads over the past few weeks and I don’t think it’s outside the bounds of reality to suggest that those ads have had an impact and swung some independents, and that the race is genuinely narrowing,” Smith said.
One ad shows three of Fischer’s neighbors telling how the Fischers sought to acquire the land of Les and Betty Kime and ultimately sued for it, but lost in court. Both families were ranchers and the land was valuable for cattle grazing because it provided access to the Snake River, according to the ad.
The Kimes, an elderly couple, accrued $40,000 in legal costs, the ad continued.
“What the Fischers did to the Kimes just isn’t right,” one neighbor in the ad said.
The Fischer camp held a press conference last month with Republican Gov. David Heineman to call the ad unfounded and said it was a last-ditch effort by Kerrey to make up ground.
Nevertheless, Kerrey remains undaunted and continues to rack up endorsements, including from former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, the bipartisan leaders of Obama’s deficit reduction commission. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has spent $2.2 million since Kerrey got in the race, a DSCC spokesman said.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated online to reflect former Sen. Chuck Hagel's endorsement of Bob Kerrey, a development that occurred after the print publication deadline.