- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 25, 2012

In a bid to attract crucial independent votes, both candidates for Nebraska’s open Senate seat are highlighting their willingness to buck their own party when necessary.

At a debate in Grand Island, Neb., on Saturday, Republican Deb Fischer — a state senator who nabbed the party’s nomination with strong support from the tea party — said she would not have voted for the Paul Ryan budget plan, the GOP’s latest fiscal blueprint calling for steep cuts in discretionary domestic spending. She also said she backs the current federal subsidies for wind power, a program GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and many other Republicans have come out against.

Democrat Bob Kerrey, the state’s former governor and two-term senator, also moved to the middle. He said he supports the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, opposed by many environmental groups and some Democrats but heavily favored by most Republicans and business groups.

Mr. Kerrey also said he agrees with portions of Mr. Romney’s immigration platform, specifically a plan to create a path to citizenship for those who sign up for the military.

With Ms. Fischer leading by double digits in most polls, Mr. Kerrey used Saturday’s debate to try to turn the tide back in his favor. He positioned himself as the candidate best equipped to tackle the nation’s tough challenges, and he didn’t sugarcoat the dire budget circumstances of the U.S. and the need to reach across the aisle to find solutions.

“We’re heading to Greece,” he said, a reference to that nation’s monetary mess. “We’ve got to scale it back. Otherwise, we’re simply not going to able to survive as a great nation.”

Ms. Fischer struck a similar tone when discussing the nation’s finances, and she also talked of her ability and willingness to work with Democrats.

“I have a record on that. My record in the legislature is that I’ve worked in a bipartisan manner,” she said, “while also underscoring the desperate need to dramatically cut federal spending and reform entitlement programs.”

But for each of their agreements, Ms. Fischer and Mr. Kerrey also differed on several key issues. Ms. Fischer, for example, drew groans from the audience when she downplayed mankind’s influence on the world’s climate.

“I believe our weather changes. I do not believe that we have a huge influence on our climate,” she said. “We need to make sure we have solid science. We need to make sure we are making wise decisions that are not going to hurt our families,” with respect to policy choices aimed at climate change.

Mr. Kerrey shot back that one needs only a basic understanding of “high school chemistry” to realize that climate change is real and that civilization is contributing to it.

He also pushed back hard against allegations that he’s a “carpetbagger” who returned to Nebraska solely for political purposes. Mr. Kerrey spent the past 12 years in New York City as head of a liberal university, and Republican-leaning super PACs have targeted that fact.

Mr. Kerrey said such arguments are “dangerous.”

“Why is it an issue when people leave and come back? This is the second time I left the state. Nobody called me a carpetbagger when I came back from Vietnam,” he said, a reference to his military service. “I can give you many reasons to vote against me, but this one, it’s a phony issue. It’s dangerous for us to be doing this.”