Click here to see Jeff Fortenberry's endorsement of Deb Fischer for U.S. Senate.
Click this link to watch the Jon Bruning TV ad that attacks Don Stenberg and Deb Fischer.
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Attorney General Jon Bruning is not acting like the U.S. Senate race is a done deal.
The Republican frontrunner unleashed a negative television advertisement Thursday aimed at his two chief rivals, the same week that polls have shown the race tightening in the final stretch before Tuesday's primary election.
Bruning denied that he was losing ground in the race, but both State Sen. Deb Fischer and State Treasurer Don Stenberg said the fact that Bruning felt compelled to target them proved the race remained “fluid.”
The trio are battling for the GOP Senate nomination. Throughout the race, Bruning has been the undisputed frontrunner. However, two polls done Sunday — including one commissioned by Fischer — showed Fischer on the rise.
Fischer has been running a low-key campaign. The dark horse candidate has been considerably outspent by Bruning and Stenberg, including two out-of-state groups that support Stenberg. But she's had a good week. Republican rock star Sarah Palin threw her support behind Fischer on Wednesday, followed by an endorsement from Nebraska U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry.
Fortenberry is Nebraska's first major Republican elected official to take sides in the GOP primary. Others, notably Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman and U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns, have stayed on the sidelines.
The latest Bruning ad is the first time Fischer has been targeted by Bruning's camp.
In the ad, Bruning criticizes Fischer for supporting a gas tax increase in 2008 to fund road construction. Years later, she got a bill passed through the Nebraska Legislature that allocated a portion of the current state sales tax for roads.
Bruning also criticizes Stenberg for using “accounting gimmicks” to hide $57 million spent to defend Nebraska in several lawsuits. During Stenberg's tenure as attorney general, the state hired outside attorneys to defend Nebraska on several water lawsuits and a lawsuit over the state's denial of a license to a low-level nuclear waste site in Boyd County.
Trent Fellers, Bruning's campaign manager, said Bruning was trying to “set the record straight.”
“Don Stenberg and Deb Fischer have been attacking Jon Bruning for months to hide from their records of accounting gimmicks, tax increases and more spending,” said Fellers.
Bruning has faced his own barrage of negative advertisements during this campaign, notably from the anti-tax group known as Club for Growth.
The group has spent more than $700,000 on advertisements, accusing Bruning of supporting tax increases and increasing his office's budget.
Club for Growth has endorsed Stenberg but, in their advertisement, they make no mention of him.
Some Republican officials and others have speculated that Fischer may be benefiting from Club for Growth's attacks on Bruning and the fact that for most of the campaign Bruning and Stenberg have been trading verbal barbs, while Fischer has remained out of the fray.
Fortenberry cited her positive campaign as one of the reasons for his endorsement.
Voters who may have doubts about Bruning and are tired of Stenberg — this is his fourth Senate campaign — may be searching for a fresh face, and Fischer may have set herself up as a viable alternative, said Tim Hill, a political scientist at Doane College.
“Negative campaign ads, you never know what's going to happen,” said Hill. “It typically works in bringing your opponent down, but you always run the risk of coming down with them.”
“As those two (Bruning and Stenberg) start going after each other ... the beneficiary becomes the one person who isn't in the fight at all,” he added.
Fischer's camp said it was clear Bruning's campaign was “failing.”
“Jon Bruning has outspent us over 10-to-1 on TV ads and he knows his campaign is failing,” said Aaron Trost, Fischer's campaign manager.
Stenberg campaign representatives said Bruning was “desperate.” They also argued that it was unfair for Bruning to criticize them for “accounting gimmicks,” when he was a member of the Nebraska Legislature during the time lawmakers approved the hiring of outside counsel to represent the state in the lawsuits.
“On taxes, Don is the only major Senate candidate who has never voted for or supported a tax increase,” said Dan Parsons, Stenberg's spokesman.
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