Senate Race Gets Stupid in a Hurryby Kyle Michaelis
It was bad enough that Ricketts kicked off his general election campaign by trying to scare voters into worrying that Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton are coming to eat their children, but it didn't take much time at all for that strategy to degrade into an all-out assault on Sen. Ben Nelson's character, accusing him of negative attacks and politics as usual in a perfectly choreographed act of pure hypocrisy.
Now, it was a rare moment of political beauty when Nelson's "Putting Nebraska First": No Matter What campaign ad was released directly on the heels of Ricketts' original cynical and sickening alternative. One could not have asked for the stakes to have been laid out more clearly or the campaigns to have been better defined. I hope you enjoyed that moment - treasured it - because it's rare that people truly see the political picture painted in such bold and contrasting colors.
When Nelson subsequently released an ad responding directly to Ricketts, calling him out for his fear-mongering tactics and quoting the Omaha World-Herald's declaring that he "insult[s] the intelligence of Nebraska voters," it struck me as sad that Nelson's campaign did not have more faith in the people to see through Ricketts' pathetic rhetoric for themselves. Still, when you are facing a candidate with infinite resources who can afford to bombard people with endless negativity, I understand how important it is to fight back, head-on, rather than letting the spin overtake the facts in the public's imagination.
So, Nelson fired back - using attributed sources to say what the people of Nebraska are quckly learning about Ricketts, while letting none other than President George W. Bush say what the people of Nebraska already know about Ben Nelson.
To illustrate, Ricketts was basically spraying bullets all over the place, trying to create a deathly cloud of partisan rancor that would poke just enough holes in Nelson's popularity to give him a fighting chance. Like a sniper, Nelson fired back with a single shot aimed directly at the empty heart of the Ricketts campaign. To that, seeing the opportunity to escalate, Ricketts pulled out the attack ad cannon, turning this contest into a full-blown battle of blow-hard BS.
There is no excusing the dishonesty underlying Ricketts' latest ad. Ricketts makes a flurry of charges against Nelson using fabricated headlines and, so far as I can tell, imaginary quotes by "the press" that, if anything, can only be attributed to Republican operatives and politicians bearing a grudge against Nelson for the continued goodwill he holds in Nebraska politics.
My God, if Ricketts was insulting our intelligence previously, he's trying to perform a lobotomy this time around.
Let's face it - the second Ricketts made this race about liberal boogeymen hiding in closets and under beds, he lost any claim whatsoever to the moral high ground, breaking the seal on "going negative" right then and there. Nelson's campaign, though, was the first to reference the opposition by name - some would say that is crossing another threshold that made Ricketts' current attack inevitable.
Whether or not Nelson opened the door a crack further, it's sad to see - again - the total disdain Ricketts must have for Nebraska voters who clearly deserve better of their politicians, no matter who their daddy is or how much money they can afford to throw away on a say anything, all guns a-blazing campaign of unprincipled desperation.
No doubt about it, Ricketts campaign has so far exhibited little but desperation, and you can't really blame them for that. Nelson remains one of the most popular U.S. Senators in the country - substantially more popular than Sen. Chuck Hagel even with Nebraska Republicans and Independents.
And, don't think it doesn't say a lot that both President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney have given major speeches in Nebraska in the last month without a single public mention of Ricketts. Cheney was even here campaigning on behalf of Republican Third District Congressional candidate Adrian Smith - to a room full of Republican donors, no less - and still there was no mention of this up-ballot race. That clearly stands as a testament to it taking more than a mountain of money to beat a man with Nelson's trusted experience and proven record, even in the eyes of the most partisan Republican White House in history.
But don't expect anyone to tell Pete Ricketts that. The media and his army of advisors stand to make small fortunes of their own off Ricketts' desperation. And the only ones who will really pay any price are the voters of Nebraska, who stand to see their democracy degrade into something hardly even recognizeable as such in the coming months.
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