New York City humor isn't playing well in the heartland.
Already down in the polls, Democrat Bob Kerrey's hopes to reclaim his old Nebraska Senate seat may have taken another hit after his wife, former Saturday Night Live writer Sarah Paley, penned a biting piece for July's Vogue magazine that some view as insulting to the Cornhusker State.
In it, Ms. Paley, a New Yorker from birth who married Mr. Kerrey more than a decade ago when he left Nebraska to lead the city's The New School university, jokes about trying to derail her husband's campaign and of her own lack of interest in political life.
She also offers up a stereotypically East Coast-centric view of Nebraska.
"Leaving Omaha, you drive through farmland and behold what Nebraska is supposed to look like: mesh silos that you can see through if they aren't full of corn, red barns with copper roofs and then the picturesque 'Little House on the Prairie' reverie is interrupted by billboards with pictures of babies and messages like 'abortion stops a beating heart,'" she wrote.
So far, Mr. Kerrey's Republican challenger, state Sen. Deb Fischer, has yet to weigh in on the controversy, but others see the article as a classic example of the rich and powerful condescending to country folk.
"She makes us seem like we're all rednecks," state Sen. Abbie Cornett, a Republican, told the Omaha World-Herald.
"She apparently believes we all wear pantsuits, spout anti-abortion slogans and carry guns," an Omaha woman said in a letter to the editor published by the newspaper last week.
In his wife's defense, Mr. Kerrey, a decorated Vietnam War hero who served as Nebraska governor and as a Nebraska senator, has described Ms. Paley as a "comedian" and assured voters that she was not mocking them.
While the article carries little in the way of political significance, analysts say, it does underscore a hurdle Mr. Kerrey must overcome if he hopes to return to the Senate. Nebraska Republicans have tried — with some success — to paint him as a "carpetbagger" who left the bright lights of New York City and returned to his home state solely for personal political gain, said John Hibbing, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska.
"It's a shrewd move by the right," he said. "It plays into the narrative that Kerrey's opponents are spinning right now: not only was he not in the state, he was in New York for the past 10 years. How could it be any worse?"
Whatever the reason, Mr. Kerrey faces an uphill climb for the Senate seat, being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson.
Polls show him down by double digits to Ms. Fischer, a tea party favorite who beat back establishment candidates in the Republican primary thanks in part to an endorsement by former Alaska governor and vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin.
In fighting back against the carpetbagger attacks, Mr. Kerrey has emphasized his lifetime of service to Nebraska. He was born in the state, served as governor from 1983 to 1987 and senator from 1989 through 2001. In 1992, he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.
"It's hard to imagine anyone more of Nebraska," Mr. Hibbing said.
Mr. Kerrey's colorful biography has, analysts say, been a political benefit in the past. During his time as governor, for example, he dated actress Debra Winger.
"That was titillating to Nebraskans," Mr. Hibbing said. "They kind of liked that. There was a little bit of pride that Kerrey ran for president and dated movie stars. But hanging out at a liberal university in New York for 10 years could be a different story."
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