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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Voting trends may harm Republican Party (Huffington Post)

What began in Indiana continued in Nebraska this week, as long-shot state Sen. Deb Fischer scored an underdog victory in Nebraska's GOP primary for the U.S. Senate, besting the efforts of two candidates more firmly established in the state's political hierarchy -- state AG Jon Bruning and state Treasurer Don Stenberg. Combined with Richard Mourdock's victory over Dick Lugar in the Indiana Senate primary, the 2012 midseason is developing a tidy upset narrative in down-ticket races.

It was a perfect storm of circumstances that allowed Fischer to take the race by the reins and ride the rail to an impressive victory. Bruning was the establishment favorite, but going into the race, he had reason to feel that wouldn't be a handicap. Having earned the backing of presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, as well as the Tea Party Express, he had every reason to believe he'd earned the "true conservative" imprimatur. But Bruning may have taken the Tea Party playacting a bit too far when he compared "welfare recipients to scavenging raccoons." And the Nebraska press went at Bruning pretty hard, running embarrassing stories and exposing baggage.

Meanwhile, Stenberg was making his fourth run for the U.S. Senate, and a candidate that desperate to succeed can usually be counted on to battle with the intensity of ... well, let's say a cornered raccoon! And so, for most of the campaign, the ostensible frontrunner and his presumed competition spent their time at each others' throats.

But even as he was beating back Stenberg's threat, the Club for Growth kept Bruning from breaking out. And as this melee wore on, it was Fischer who suddenly started gaining traction in the polls, coming to within spitting distance of Bruning. That's when the rest of what needed to happen fell into place for Fischer. She earned the late-stage endorsement of Sarah Palin (who, having also backed Mourdock, is 2-for-2 in endorsements thus far this cycle), and right when she needed it, Chicago Cubs owner Joe Ricketts (more on him in a moment) kicked in $200,000 for Fischer's closing argument. Fischer had, up until then, been badly outspent. But in this three-way race, a little late money was all she needed to get over the finish line.

In the end, Nebraska conservatives looking for the genuine article picked correctly. But there are ramifications down the line now if she takes the Senate seat. Let's recall that when Mourdock won, he immediately promised an escalation in polarization and the furtherance of the spirit of compromise's slow death. With Fischer, you get much the same -- she's a debt-ceiling crackpot of the highest order, poised to join with her party's hostage-taking legislative gangsters. (This is why even though the Club for Growth backed Stenberg, they'll take this victory.)

Of course, Steve Kornacki sees Fischer's victory as part of a trend that benefits Democrats in general -- one in which "the Republican Party base's revolt against its own establishment" could "actually cost Republicans outright Senate control":

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 [Sharron] 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.

While Nate Silver has, of late, seen the Senate races growing more favorable to the Democrats, we feel that Kornacki might end up being wrong about Fischer's chances here. Bob Kerrey, the former Nebraska senator who is returning to retake his seat, was a weak candidate against Bruning, and there's no reason why Fischer can't exploit the same weaknesses. And as Kornacki admits, his speculation came ahead of any "meaningful" Fischer-Kerrey poll numbers. "Presumably," Kornacki writes, "the GOP nominee will begin with a solid lead." But we don't think he imagined this sort of solid lead: Rasmussen has Fischer up on Kerrey with a staggering 56-38 lead.

And we continue on the road to Texas and Utah to see if this trend continues.


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