Matt Lewis

Is Deb Fischer about to become this year’s Mike Rounds?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor

A good rule of thumb in politics is to attack your opponent. But sometimes in a three-way race, the best strategy is to keep your head down. That seems to be what is propelling Deb Fischer to a likely upset win in Nebraska’s U.S. senate race today.

As Business Insider observes,

Fischer is a beneficiary of the infighting between Bruning and Stenberg, which turned the campaign relatively negative.

… As the campaign has turned negative, both Bruning and Stenberg have seen their favorability ratings dip drastically, while Fischer has crept up positively from under the radar.

Bruning has seen his net favorability dip 27 points, while Stenberg’s has dropped 17 points. Fischer, meanwhile, now has a net favorability rating of plus-45.

“It does happen,” [polling analyst Jim] Williams said. “Sometimes when you’ve got two front-runners going at each other so negatively, the third person kind of goes positive and sneaks in there.”

(Emphasis mine.)

Williams is right. It’s rare, but I’ve seen this movie before. In 2004, Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean destroyed each other in Iowa, allowing John Kerry — whose campaign had been presumed dead a month or so earlier — to run up the middle.

But an even starker example of this phenomenon happened in the South Dakota gubernatorial race in 2002.

As the Daily Times Herald recalled:

In 2002 South Dakotans were shocked when a decided underdog captured the Republican gubernatorial primary in a three-way race over two better-known and more highly funded opponents.That upstart, the now popular incumbent governor, Mike Rounds, ran a campaign in which he put out an upbeat message — in small daily and weekly newspapers, I might add.

Meanwhile, the favored candidates, South Dakota Attorney General Mark Barnett and former Lt. Gov. Steve Kirby, used much larger campaign war chests to attack each other.

The decent guy, five-term state senator from Pierre, Rounds, who had been written off by the punditry as, well, too nice and poorly financed to win, surprised the establishment. He pulled 44 percent of the vote for a clear win in the primary, which in decidedly Republican South Dakota is generally the whole shooting works.

(Emphasis mine.)

Fischer appears poised to become this year’s Mike Rounds.