LINCOLN — Democratic Senate candidate Jane Raybould repeatedly criticized U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., for cozying up to President Donald Trump and her party.
Turns out, Republican voters in red-meat Nebraska liked the rancher’s approach just fine.
They re-elected her by a comfortable margin Tuesday to her second term in the Senate, where she’s fighting to move up the ladder of GOP leadership.
Fischer, in her victory speech, said campaigns shouldn’t be about personal attacks. They should be about a candidate’s record, she said. She promised six years to go to Washington and get results, she said, and she has.
“People know that I’m getting things done,” she said.
Raybould spoke after calling to congratulate Fischer on her re-election.
“I know. I’m disappointed, too,” she told supporters. “But even in defeat, we have left a mark. . . . We have energized new voters across Nebraska, looking at the numbers of ballots cast today.”
During the campaign, Fischer rarely addressed her opponent directly, even after Raybould called her corrupt during the race’s lone debate, hosted by The World-Herald at the Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island.
Fischer focused instead on what she called her record of results, including her work to help the Nebraska delegation secure funding for a new runway at Offutt Air Force Base and $1.2 billion in roads funding from an infrastructure bill that she helped shepherd through the Senate.
Raybould, a Lincoln City Councilwoman and grocery chain executive, struggled to raise enough money to compete on the airwaves and was swamped by her Republican opponent’s voter registration advantages in Nebraska’s largely rural 3rd Congressional District.
She could not build on to Democratic-leaning pockets of support in Omaha, Lincoln and the Interstate 80 corridor, not even with the active backing of the Nebraska State Education Association.
Libertarian candidate Jim Schultz finished a distant third.
Raybould tried to separate herself by saying she’d support restoring several health care provisions the GOP removed from Obamacare, including stabilizing the individual insurance marketplace and restoring ironclad requirements for covering pre-existing conditions.
Fischer’s counters largely hewed to her party’s line on health care by advocating increased choice, increased disclosure on costs and purchasing insurance across state lines.
One of the biggest flashpoints of the race was agricultural trade and President Trump’s use of tariffs, with Raybould saying Fischer should have done more to defend Nebraska producers.
Fischer argued that the best approach to trade with Trump was talking to him behind the scenes. and working with his administration. Public confrontation backfires, she said.
The president eased tensions late in the race by negotiating new deals with Canada and Mexico and South Korea. that he and Fischer say offer farmers and ranchers a better deal.
Raybould argued that customers lost to the president’s trade agenda won’t come back quickly enough to make farmers whole., especially soybean farmers caught in Trump’s spat with China.
She argued for a more confrontational style, including taking back tariff authority from the administration and, if necessary, holding up the president’s appointments.
Voters like 79-year-old northwest Omaha Republican Ron Kretchmer said they voted a straight party ticket for national offices “to keep the Democrats out of office.”
Many said they wanted to keep the economic momentum of the country going., echoing many of the GOP’s stances about tax cuts, job growth, low unemployment and less regulation.
In the end, the state’s partisan lean, and Fischer’s reliable votes for Republican efforts on taxes and spending, helped her. easily navigate a wave of Democratic enthusiasm in Nebraska’s cities.
It’s getting harder for Nebraska Democrats to win statewide as Republicans grow their ranks faster than Democrats and nonpartisans, said Paul Landow, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
But, he said, Raybould appears to have made a strategic blunder in repeatedly attacking a Nebraska Republican in a statewide race for voting with and supporting Republicans.
“That didn’t work,” Landow said.