Once thought to be a lock, Republican Deb Fischer is losing her edge in the race to represent Nebraska in the U.S. Senate.
Mrs. Fischer led Democrat Bob Kerrey by double digits through the summer and much of the fall, but new polls show that her advantage has evaporated in a race that Republicans almost have to win to recapture control of the Senate. With Sen. Ben Nelson, a moderate Democrat, retiring at the end of this term, the Republicans were widely expected to pick up the conservative state’s seat, but the outcome is now very much in doubt.
Late last week, a survey by the Omaha World-Herald showed Mrs. Fischer leading by just 3 points, 48 percent to Mr. Kerrey’s 45 percent.
Another poll also conducted last week by the Pharos Research Group showed an equally tight race, with 49.7 percent of likely Nebraska voters backing Mrs. Fischer, while 47 percent chose Mr. Kerrey, the state’s former governor who also spent two terms in the Senate before leaving to serve as president of a liberal New York City university.
The Fischer camp has disputed those figures and late last week put out its own internal poll of 600 likely Nebraska voters, showing Mrs. Fischer with a commanding 16-point lead.
Despite the conflicting polls, the race’s momentum appears to have shifted to Mr. Kerrey. In recent weeks, he’s launched blistering attacks on Mrs. Fischer for her attempts to take neighbor’s land through “adverse possession,” a legal doctrine akin to squatter’s rights.
Mr. Kerrey highlighted the issue, which led to a lawsuit between Mrs. Fischer and her former neighbors in the 1990s, in television advertising across the state. The Republican’s campaign has disputed that interpretation, arguing that Mrs. Fischer merely wanted to settle a dispute over property boundaries through the legal system.
But the land battle is just one factor in Mr. Kerrey’s comeback. Over the past several months, he’s attempted to move to the right of Mrs. Fischer on entitlement reform and federal spending while convince Nebraskans that he’s better equipped to tackle the nation’s budget deficits and mounting debt.
That approach, apparently having an impact with Nebraska voters, has also helped Mr. Kerrey secure support from across the aisle.
On Monday, former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of neighboring Wyoming, co-chairman of the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction commission, endorsed Mr. Kerrey.
“He has told Nebraskans the honest truth about the critical necessity of assuring the 75-year solvency of the Social Security system, and stabilizing Medicare and Medicaid in a way that preserves and strengthens the needed protections for seniors,” Mr. Simpson said in a statement. Mr. Kerrey “will place the national interest ahead of the howling special interests and be ready to make the hard, tough choices.”
Republican groups have noticed the shift toward Mr. Kerrey and are attempting to stop the bleeding. Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS super PAC is dumping more than $400,000 into the race during the home stretch.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Fischer’s strategy in the final week of the campaign has been to tie Mr. Kerrey to unpopular Democrats, most notably President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. The Fischer camp has blasted Mr. Kerrey’s contention that the nation is, in fact, better off than it was four years ago, before Mr. Obama entered the White House.
On Tuesday, Mrs. Fischer blasted Mr. Kerrey for saying he’d back Mr. Reid for another term as majority leader.
“Harry Reid and Bob Kerrey cut a secret deal that prompted Kerrey to suddenly move from his home in New York to run for Senate in Nebraska. And now, Bob Kerrey says he’ll vote for Harry Reid for majority leader,” Fischer spokesman Daniel Keylin said in a statement. “What exactly did Harry Reid promise Bob Kerrey? And what did Bob Kerrey promise Harry Reid? Nebraskans deserve to know.”
Mr. Keylin’s charges stem from earlier admissions by Mr. Kerrey that Mr. Reid promised to respect his previous 12 years of service in the Senate with regard to committee assignments.