Kerrey bets ranch on Nebraska race

Rival in Senate contest calls ad about lawsuit over neighbor’s land ‘pathetic’

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The Senate race in Nebraska has taken a nasty turn.

In a new television ad out Monday, Democrat Bob Kerrey assails his Republican opponent, state Sen. Deb Fischer, for suing her elderly neighbors 15 years ago and costing them $40,000 in legal fees in what some are calling a cold, calculated land grab.

Mr. Kerrey, the state’s former governor and former two-term senator, thinks the incident reveals the true character of Mrs. Fischer, a rancher who remains ahead in the polls.

The Republican’s campaign responded Monday by calling the new commercial a “pathetic” piece of “character assassination” and “gutter politics” designed to distract from the real issues facing Nebraskans.

With just three weeks until Election Day, a race that had focused on the economy, federal budget deficits and entitlement-program reforms is now mired in a back-and-forth about property rights and cattle grazing.

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A spokesman for the U.S. Senate campaign of Nebraska state Sen. Deb ... more >

“State Sen. Fischer’s neighbors allowed her to use their land, and rather than saying thank you, she went to court and attempted to take that land away,” Mr. Kerrey said in a statement. “Suing your neighbors for their land doesn’t reflect the Nebraska values I grew up with and learned. State Sen. Fischer’s actions in this case are deeply troubling. Nebraskans need to know this story.”

The complex case centers on a decades-old land dispute between the Fischers and their neighbors, Les and Betty Kime. The Kimes had allowed Mrs. Fischer and her husband, Bruce, to use a piece of their land free of charge for cattle grazing over many years.

In the mid-1990s, the Fischers filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the Kimes, both of whom have since died, claiming to have “adverse possession” of the land, since they’d been using and managing it for decades. As a legal doctrine, adverse possession is akin to squatter’s rights.

The Fischer campaign tells a much different story, claiming that the couple simply wanted to clear up confusion over property borders.

“Before the Fischers sold a parcel of their land, their lawyer advised them to clarify the land boundaries through the legal system,” campaign spokesman Daniel Keylin said. “Mr. Kerrey’s reckless disregard for the truth and his desperate personal attacks are the epitome of what’s wrong with Washington. Rather than focus on the issues or his record, Mr. Kerrey is turning to the politics of personal destruction.”

Mr. Keylin went on to say that Mr. Kerrey is now “revealing the disturbing depths he’ll stoop to in order to win.”

The Fischer campaign has also taken its fair share of shots at Mr. Kerrey in recent months, including labeling him a big-city Democrat who returned to his home state of Nebraska solely to run for political office.

Before coming back to the state, Mr. Kerrey spent more than a decade as head of a liberal New York City university.

The hotly contested race is central to Republican hopes of recapturing control of the Senate. Sen. Ben Nelson, one of the chamber’s last remaining conservative Democrats, is retiring at the end of the term, and Republicans see the “deep-red” state as fertile ground for a pickup.

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