Why conservatives look poised to miss an opportunity in Nebraska

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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If Indiana gave conservatives hope, Nebraska could give them heartburn.

Things were so much simpler just one week ago, when Sen. Dick Lugar was the obvious villain and Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock was the conservative alternative. One short week later, with no squishy incumbent to oust, all three Nebraska Republicans are vying to occupy the conservative mantle.

And thanks to the seemingly schizophrenic endorsements of prominent national conservatives, the waters are thoroughly muddied.

It’s hard to blame the voters for being unclear about which candidate is the real conservative. In recent days, former Sen. Rick Santorum endorsed Jon Bruning — while Sarah Palin has backed state sen. Deb Fischer. (Previously, FreedomWorks, The Club for Growth, and Sen. Jim DeMint’s PAC had all backed State Treasurer Don Stenberg.)

Psychologists call this the paralyzing problem of too many choices.

Santorum and Palin are fine conservatives, but fiscal conservatives would be wise to put more stock in the FreedomWorks, Club for Growth, and DeMint endorsements. Here’s why: These groups employ staffers and researchers to delve into candidate’s voting records (which is presumably the best predictor for how they would vote in the senate.) Most politicians don’t have those kinds of resources. What is more, unlike politicians, this is pretty much their primary purpose for existence; failing to get it right could have major consequences. For most politicians, however, endorsements are merely a side project.

For example, I wonder if Palin realizes that in 2008, Fischer voted “yes” on LB 959, which included a $14.5 million appropriation for road-building, funded by gas tax hike. (Gov. Dave Heinemann line-item vetoed the tax hike, and decreased road funding by the $14 million that tax hike would have collected. Fischer then voted to override the veto. She ultimately helped broker a compromise deal that got rid of the tax hike, but paid for the roads by raiding the state’s rainy day fund — a move that only delays tax increases.)

Fischer’s record on fiscal matters is so bad that some are speculating Palin’s endorsement has more to do with her gender than it does with her record. Meanwhile, Bruning previously supported a “national, government run health care plan” and voted to raise the state sales tax.

Unfortunately for conservatives, nobody seems to care. Stenberg — who currently trails in the polls — is, by most accounts, a lousy campaigner (sadly, there often seems to be an inverse relationship between philosophy and campaign competence.)

The good news is that conservatives can look forward to clearer contrasts in upcoming senate primaries. The bad news is that — with the retirement of two-term Democratic incumbent Sen. Ben Nelson — conservatives might be missing a golden opportunity to elect s solid conservative senator from Nebraska. This is especially true since all three Republicans are currently leading Democrat Bob Kerrey in the polls.

Matt K. Lewis