Dems’ best friend: The GOP base

The conservative masses revolt again, this time in Nebraska's Senate primary

Topics: Opening Shot,

Dems’ best friend: The GOP base

At the very least, the Republican Party base’s revolt against its own establishment cost the GOP a 50-50 Senate tie in 2010, with primary voters forcing unelectable nominees on the party in three races that it had otherwise been on course to win. A decent case can be made that the uprising actually cost Republicans outright Senate control.

And now the same thing may be happening all over again, with Nebraska joining a growing list of unexpected 2012 Senate battlegrounds – at least for the moment.

The impetus is the surprise victory of Deb Fischer, a little-known state legislator, over two seasoned opponents in Tuesday’s Nebraska Republican Senate primary. Fischer’s candidacy seemed dead in the water until about a week ago, when she was endorsed by Sarah Palin. A last-second ad blitz from a super PAC controlled by the founder of Ameritrade added to her momentum, and Fischer ended up beating out state Attorney General Jon Bruning, who had been the favorite, by 5 points.

The outcome was greeted with immediate joy by Democrats, with the DSCC putting out a statement calling Fischer an “untested” and “accidental” nominee for the seat being vacated by Democrat Ben Nelson. The hope for Democrats is that the 61-year-old Fischer, who has represented a rural western Nebraska district in the state Senate since 2005, will melt under the spotlight of a high-stakes general election contest – much the way Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Ken Buck and Joe Miller did in 2010.

This may prove to be wishful thinking. Fischer could end up being a perfectly competent candidate, one who isn’t prone to erratic behavior and pointlessly inflammatory rhetoric and who doesn’t have any serious skeletons in her closet. Certainly, she showed strong communication skills in her acceptance speech Tuesday night. And because of Nebraska’s deep red shading and its particular antipathy toward Democrats in the Obama era, Fischer’s margin for error is probably substantial. The same mistakes that derailed Angle in Nevada may only be the difference between, say, a 20- and 10-point win in Nebraska.



That said, Fischer absolutely is an untested candidate. Bruning and the race’s other major candidate, state Treasurer Don Stenberg, spent months firing shots at each other and gobbling up all of the attention. The intensity of their battle probably helped create the opening that Fischer seized, but the late timing of her surge also spared her from facing much in the way of media scrutiny or attacks from her rivals. She raised and spent very little money, and not much is known about her.

For Democrats, that’s reason to cheer. Had Bruning (or even Stenberg, a veteran of eight previous statewide campaigns) won the primary, the general election race would have been a snore. Polls showed both men comfortably ahead of the Democratic candidate, former Sen. Bob Kerrey, who won elections in the state in 1982 (for governor), 1988 and 1994, back when he was something of a local hero. But Kerrey spent the last decade running the New School in New York and hasn’t been on a Nebraska ballot in 18 years. Partisan divisions have hardened since then, and Kerrey now faces cries of carpetbagging.

There are no meaningful Fischer/Kerrey poll numbers out yet. Presumably, the GOP nominee will begin with a solid lead, just because this is Nebraska (and because right now she embodies a neat underdog story). The question is how she’ll hold up, and on that score there’s some real doubt, which means that Nebraska is in play, at least provisionally.

Add in Indiana, where the Tea Party-aligned Richard Mourdock knocked off Dick Lugar last week, and two GOP primaries in one week have resulted in a surprise general election opportunities for Democrats. And primary season isn’t over yet. As Josh Kraushaar notes, the GOP’s grass roots seem poised to rise up against former Gov. Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin; that race is already considered a tossup, but a weak GOP nominee could tip the scales.

Other developments over the last year have also bolstered Democrats’ chances of holding the Senate, including the emergence of Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts (her recent troubles notwithstanding), Olympia Snowe’s unexpected retirement in Maine, and encouraging news from Arizona and maybe even North Dakota. What looked like an awful Senate map for Democrats at the start of this cycle has come to seem more manageable – even more so after Tuesday night’s shocker in Nebraska.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.

    Domino's

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.

    Arby's/Facebook

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.

    KFC

    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    Pizzagamechangers.com

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.

    7-Eleven

    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>