Deb Fischer, and what (political) money can’t buy

at 06:30 AM ET, 05/16/2012

Only about one-tenth of the money spent in Tuesday’s Nebraska GOP Senate primary was spent on Deb Fischer’s behalf.

Yet the little-known state senator emerged victorious over both the establishment-favored candidate and a favorite of the tea party — both of whom, we should note, are statewide elected officials.

Who says candidates don’t matter and money is everything?
Don Stenberg, left, and Deb Fischer during a Nebraska Republican Senate candidate debate. (Jeff Beiermann, AP)

Fischer’s win in the primary Tuesday is a testament to the fact that politics is still about campaigns and that money isn’t the be-all, end-all.

While Fischer’s win wasn’t necessarily a tea party win, it was reminiscent of the insurgent GOP candidacies of 2010, in which a candidate’s character and politics often meant more than money and infrastructure.

State Attorney General Jon Bruning raised more than three times as much as his two opponents combined and appeared to be next in line for the state’s Senate delegation.

State Treasurer Don Stenberg evened the financial score thanks to support from the conservative Club for Growth and Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) Senate Conservatives Fund. (It should be noted that the Club’s ads were negative against Bruning — which seemed to work — while DeMint’s group tried to prop up Stenberg — which didn’t.)

But both men had major liabilities, with Bruning suffering from a series of tough headlines in the local press and the Club’s spending, and Stenberg having lost three previous Senate campaigns.

Bruning spent $1.2 million on ads, according to a media buyer, while Stenberg, the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund combined to spend about $1.3 million — half of it anti-Bruning, and half pro-Stenberg.

Fischer, meanwhile, ran only about $100,000 worth of ads and got another late $200,000 infusion from a super PAC run by Chicago Cubs co-owner Joe Ricketts. She benefitted from the Club’s spending, no doubt, but she wasn’t the intended beneficiary.

In other words, this was a huge upset.

Republicans will now be faced with the fact that their candidate is largely undefined for the general election. While Fischer doesn’t come out of the primary with major liabilities — she was attacked for supporting a gas tax increase, though — she also has plenty of work to do in defining herself.

Regardless, Republicans are still heavily favored to hold the seat in the general election, owing largely to the state’s deep red hue and former senator Bob Kerrey (D) having left the state for a decade after leaving the Senate. A poll released in March by Democratic-leaning automated pollster Public Policy Polling showed Fischer up 10 points on Kerrey.

Democrats immediately began labeling Fischer the “accidental” GOP nominee and said her win recasts the race.

“Bob Kerrey is a proven winner with an honorable record of service to the country, working with both parties to solve problems, while Fischer is an untested Tea Party candidate who has profited off a federally subsidized sweetheart land deal and called for higher gas taxes on middle class families in Nebraska.,” said Matt Canter, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Republican insisted they were happy to have Fischer as their nominee.

“The difference in this race couldn’t be more clear,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “Deb is a small business rancher, mother and conservative leader who believes we need to spend less, balance our budget and repeal ObamaCare, while her opponent supports bigger government and higher taxes.”

Biden to target Bain, ‘Romney economics’: In a speech to a manufacturing facility in Youngstown, Ohio, today, Vice President Biden will draw a contrast between President Obama’s economic plan and Mitt Romney’s.

“When China dumped all these cheap tires here, and we fought back and we won, Romney called it ‘protectionism.’” Biden will say, according to advance excerpts provided to The Fix. “Said by standing up to China, we would somehow hurt American workers. That’s Romney Economics.”

Biden will also hit Romney for Bain Capital’s stewardship of a steel mill that is the subject of a new two-minute Obama campaign ad.

“In the 1990s, there was a steel mill in Kansas City, Missouri,” Biden will say. “It had been in business since 1888. Then Romney and his partners bought the company. Eight years later it went bankrupt.”

Fixbits:

Obama reports that he is worth between $2.6 million and $8.3 million.

Most Americans think Obama will win reelection.

Tim Pawlenty says he shouldn’t be on anybody’s vice presidential list, but he might run for governor or Senate in 2014.

Public Policy Polling shows Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) up five points in his recall election.

PPP also has outgoing Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) leading Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) in a potential 2014 primary 48 percent to 37 percent.

Rielle Hunter got $9,000 per month from John Edwards’s campaign finance chairman.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) says he’s been subpoenaed in the Roger Clemens trial.

Democrats fail to recruit a challenger for Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.).

Rep. Connie Mack’s (R-Fla.) water bills show someone has been using his home a few days a month (presumably Mack). Mack has faced questions during his Senate campaign over how much time he spends in Florida.

The Austin American-Statesman endorses Ted Cruz in the Texas Senate race.

A Michigan state representative switches from Democrat to Republican.

Must-reads:

High stakes in Romney-Obama battle over Bain, economy” — Dan Balz, Washington Post

Some Former Rivals Boost Romney as Others Hang Back” — Scott Conroy, Real Clear Politics

Iowa, Again, Serves as Proving Ground for Romney” — Michael Barbaro and Michael D. Shear, New York Times

Where have all the candidates gone?” — Dana Milbank, Washington Post

Read more on PostPolitics:

Who is Deb Fisher, and how did she pull an upset?

Is Obama responsible for a $5 trillion debt increase?

At Washington deli, Obama tries to sandwich GOP on jobs plan

 
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