It just got personal in the race between Democrat Bob Kerrey and Republican Deb Fischer.
Kerrey launched a bruising statewide television blitz Monday in which a trio of people from Fischer's hometown of Valentine question the Senate candidate's character and her family's decision to file suit against an elderly couple in a land dispute.
Kerrey argued the lawsuit was fair game because Fischer “betrayed” the elderly couple, who had given the Fischers permission to graze cattle on the disputed land before Fischer and her husband, Bruce, took them to court in 1995.
“If your neighbor betrayed you, would you want them to serve in the U.S. Senate?” Kerrey asked at a press conference in Omaha.
Fischer denounced the Kerrey ad, calling it “despicable” and a “personal attack.” She has scheduled a press conference today in Lincoln to respond.
“Mr. Kerrey's entire campaign has consisted of negative attacks on my family and me because he can't run on his liberal record. This ad is a despicable personal attack that has crossed the line. We don't resort to this level of politics here in Nebraska,” Fischer said in a press release.
Daniel Keylin, Fischer's spokesman, also defended the suit, arguing that the Fischers filed it on the advice of their attorney, who had urged the Fischers to use the courts to help clear up boundary questions between the Fischers and the Kimes.
Fischer and Kerrey are battling for the Nebraska seat held by retiring Sen. Ben Nelson.
Kerrey entered the race as the Democrats' best hope to keep the seat. Polls have consistently shown Fischer as the race's frontrunner. She held a double-digit lead last month among likely voters in The World-Herald Poll.
The television ad from Kerrey is an attempt to undercut Fischer's lead by raising questions about Fischer's character.
In 1995, after years of trying to get the Kimes to swap land or to find an out-of-court settlement to their land dispute, the Fischers took Les and Betty Kime to court. The Kimes, who have since died, were longtime ranchers and neighbors of the Fischers.
The Fischers argued in court that they had taken care of the disputed land for more than a decade and deserved ownership under a legal doctrine known as adverse possession. It is the same doctrine associated with the concept of “squatters rights.”
The Fischers lost.
In the ad, three people from Valentine condemned the Fischers for the lawsuit, including Dorothy Lord, a Democrat and close friend of the Kimes.
Lord said in a telephone interview Monday that she decided to participate in the ad because she felt it was important to “speak up for the Kimes.”
She said the Kimes were “devastated” by the lawsuit and couldn't believe they were being sued by longtime neighbors.
“I got in this because of my friends, Les and Betty Kime. Shortly after they received notice they were being sued by the Fischers, they sat at my kitchen table and, with tears in their eyes, told us the story,” said Lord.
A second person quoted in the ad is Pat Donovan, a Democrat and attorney who also is a tribal judge for the Sioux.
“I've lived in Valentine most of my life, and there are people that are scared to cross the Fischers,” Donovan says in the ad. Donovan could not be reached Monday.
The third person quoted was Don Pettigrew. Pettigrew is a Republican. His son, Bud, chairs the Cherry County Democrats.
In a telephone interview, Don Pettigrew said his son did not ask him to participate. He said he wanted to help because he does not want Fischer in the Senate.
“Neighbors do not sue neighbors,” Pettigrew says in the ad.
Contact the writer: