Who’s the Truest Conservative?

While it hasn’t gotten as much attention as last week’s defenestration of Sen. Dick Lugar, there is a Republican Senate primary in Nebraska today, characterized by a frantic national and in-state three-way effort to convince voters each is the “true conservative” in the race.

Long-time front-runner and Attorney General Jon Bruning is being cast by his opponents as the Establishment/RINO candidate, which is interesting for a guy who’s been endorsed by Rick Santorum, and who once compared welfare recipients to scavaging racoons.

But much as they’ve tried, Bruning’s rivals, state treasurer Don Stenberg and state senator Deb Fischer, can’t seem to nail down the role of the crusading “reformer” championing angry and oft-betrayed conservatives who just want someone to go to Washington and vote against everything that happened in the 20th century.

Stenberg is a crappy campaigner who nonetheless managed to get support from the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, and Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservative Fund. Fischer, with the most late mojo of any candidate, has gotten the Mama Grizzly nod from a certain short-term governor of Alaska, and a boost from Chicago Cubs co-owner John Rickets, who’s paying for both anti-Bruning and pro-Fischer ads.

They’re all calling each other crypto-liberal frauds. In an effort to color-code the ballot for confused conservatives, Stenberg’s telling people: “I’d be the Richard Mourdock of the Nebraska Senate race.”

By the time the night’s over, these people may even convince Nebraska progressives that Democratic nominee Bob Kerrey’s just fine. If the ethically challenged and much-attacked Bruning’s the nominee, which remains the likeliest outcome, then Kerry may even have a chance in November.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.