Jeff Fortenberry: Mark These Wordsby Kyle Michaelis
Moul is a fine woman, a great Nebraskan, and I have no doubt she would have been a true asset to her state and her nation in Congress. That said, for all Moul's impressive qualifications and credentials, there was a spark missing from her campaign that led me to question in early October whether she was even in the race to win...or just to mobilize the Democratic base on Sen. Ben Nelson's behalf. That says a lot, although it pains me to make such suggestion now as much as it ever did.
In that post, I focused on the need to define incumbent Rep. Jeff Fortenberry as out-of-touch with the needs and interests of First District voters. But, as Election Day neared, what was truly lacking from Moul's message was the Nebraska-rooted, local flavor that should have been her greatest, most natural asset.
Voters did not know Moul when they cast their ballot. Hers was a cookie-cutter, paint-by-numbers, Democratic campaign in which both candidates were nothing more than stand-ins for dueling national political themes. In New York, Connecticut, even Pennsylvania, such may have had the makings of a winning campaign in the current political climate.....BUT NOT IN NEBRASKA, not by any stretch of the imagination.
Of course, I don't envy the choices Moul and her campaign had to make. On both immigration and the war in Iraq, it seemed there were pressures to adopt ill-fitting messages to fall in line with and not be a liability to Sen. Nelson's reelection. That robbed Moul of two powerful issues on which she might have really defined herself, perhaps injecting her campaign with the passion and the personality it generally seemed to lack.
Taking the positions she did within the confines I perceived, Moul's only chance at victory would have been running as Ben Nelson in a dress, with Nelson completely embracing Moul's campaign as his own. But, a) that was never going to happen and b) that would have been a terrible betrayal of the principles, the intelligence, and the independence that made Moul such an attractive candidate to begin with.
So, Moul lost. That doesn't bother me. Fortenberry was never going to be easy to defeat. As a first-termer in a do-nothing Congress, his record was thin but also generally inoffensive. Still, with Moul's margin of defeat after the resources she'd amassed and the prevailing mood of the general public, it's hard not to consider her campaign a flop, although I have nothing but respect and affection for the candidate herself.
That leaves us with at least another two years of Congressman Fortenberry, and I won't deny that it could be a whole lot more. Already laying the groundwork for such a possibility, Monday's Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
Fortenberry says he’s not deterred or discouraged by his sudden bump from the House majority into the minority in his second term.
“I’ve been trying to build relationships (across party lines) since I’ve been there,” he says. “Relationships build trust, and trust leads to common ground”....
The 1st District Republican congressman won his second term earlier this month by the largest margin in Nebraska’s three House races despite being matched against the best-known Democratic opponent.
Fortenberry defeated former Lt. Gov. Maxine Moul by 18 percentage points, winning 23 of 24 counties, all but Burt....
With members of the House considered to be most vulnerable in their first bid for re-election, Fortenberry’s big win more firmly established him politically. His predecessor, Doug Bereuter, served 13 terms....
While he may have won by a comfortable margin, Fortenberry says: “We had to fight for it considering the national environment.”
What was the message voters delivered in turning out Republican incumbents and establishing Democratic majorities in the House and Senate?
“I think the American people have told us they want inspired leadership independent of political party”...Fortenberry says.
If Fortenberry means what he says in the above article and truly works in the bipartisan fashion that Nebraska voters expect, demonstrating the true leadership and independence that Fortenberry failed to establish in his first term, he's going to be well-positioned to win future elections. But, if he hasn't learned such lessons and continues to serve his party before the people who elected him, the right Democratic candidate running a strong campaign is going to give Fortenberry a very hard time in 2008.
The people want "inspired leadership independent of political party." We hear you, Mr. Fortenberry, and we will be watching very closely to see that you've heard us.