Don Walton today:
So what happens now?
Bruning launches his “ground game,” identifying and organizing supporters across the state.
And he begins the rather challenging task of attempting to raise funds for a campaign he may never wage.
Hagel loyalists in the Republican ranks are going to hold tight, one would guess.
Bruning loyalists will step forward behind their man.
And what will Republicans who are angry with Hagel for opposing President Bush on Iraq do?
Judging by letters to the editor, telephone messages and anecdotal evidence, there are a lot of them out there. They are upset, and they are energized.
If you paid attention to last year’s Republican gubernatorial primary, it revealed a very real split within the Nebraska Republican Party. It’s hard to pinpoint any ideological lines for the split – it seems more of a clash of personalities, a party establishment against those who find themselves on the outside. Almost a cult of personality centered around Chuck Hagel. There is certainly ample evidence that Hagel can hold a grudge and that Heineman has some of the same traits. So Jon Bruning didn’t exactly make any friends among the Nebraska Republican kingmakers by endorsing Tom Osborne for governor.
The Osborne/Heineman race was odd in many ways, in that the arguably more “moderate” but decidedly more partisan Heineman was at once both the establishment candidate and the anti-Osborne candidate. It’s still difficult to quite understand what the coalition of voters was that ultimately won the race for Heineman, but it’s hard to argue against the fact that Hagel’s endorsement carried a lot of weight – giving his campaign legitimacy when it wasn’t at all clear that he could run and make it competitive, let alone win. This was, after all, an unelected governor.
The strange alliances that followed in this race, the issues that came up, are hard to explain, difficult to understand out of context. Strong progressive Democrats like Gwen Howard endorsed Tom Osborne for Governor. Two conservative Democrats bolting the party to endorse Dave Heineman. Ultra-right wing Republican Kate Witek jumping ship to the Democratic Party because of Heineman.
In Hagel’s position, the alliances become even more bizarre. David Kramer, Dave Heineman, and Hal Daub all get up there on television and try to explain how Iraq could be a positive for Hagel – in a Republican primary. These are Republicans in a deeply Republican state. At least Adrian Smith doesn’t hide his right-wing rhetoric.
It still seems unlikely that Hagel will receive a challenge from Bruning – more likely that Johanns or some other Republican receives Hagel’s backing for an open seat. But if Hagel does decide to seek reelection, Bruning has an opening that wasn’t available to Tom Osborne. There wasn’t a significant amount of Republican displeasure with Dave Heineman. He had very high approval ratings throughout the election. But there is an energized and real portion of the Republican electorate that can’t stand Chuck Hagel. Whether that means that Bruning can overcome the significant disadvantages he would have against Hagel – like Osborne, Bruning has never faced a competitive race for elected office – is yet to be seen.
But we need to be better prepared to fight this race than we were in 2006. This means many things:
1.) Staying out of the Republicans’ fight. No “Republicans-for-a-day.”
2.) Getting a real candidate and supporting that candidate. Make it clear that the best choice in this election, no matter who the Republicans choose, is the Democrat.
3.) Don’t prematurely concede this race. Period.
Which is why this note from the same article bothers me:
Charlie Matulka, the 2002 Democratic Senate nominee, says he’s ready to challenge Hagel again in 2008 and “demand a statewide handcount” of the vote.
Matulka lost in 2002 83-17%, and subsequently engaged in wild conspiracy theories accusing Chuck Hagel of rigging the election. In 2006, he lost a race for Public Service Commissioner 61-39%. It does not appear that he accused Frank Landis of stealing that election. The integrity of our elections is indeed a very real issue, and we must safeguard our democracy. But throwing out baseless accusations hurts the entire cause. There have been very real problems with voting machines across the country, and Hagel’s connection to ES&S raises some ethical questions. But there is not a shred of evidence that suggests his victory in 1996 was illegitimate, and to suggest that Hagel did not win legitimately in 2002 strains the credibility of everyone involved.
There is an opportunity here, with a fractured Republican Party, to make some inroads and put up a real candidate that can win. But we need to take ourselves seriously as a party. We have to make a real effort. 2002 was a disaster on all levels for this party – we can’t allow that to happen again.