It is no fun being a member of the GOP establishment these days. Another upstart has pulled off a surprise victory, this time in Nebraska. Shades of Indiana! Even worse, Sarah Palin's endorsement seems to have made a big difference. The peasants are revolting! And nominating their candidates for the Senate.
Someone named Deb Fischer -- nobody at the National Press Club or Cosmos Club ever heard of her -- won the Republican primary. David Catanese of Politico explains:
Nebraska state Sen. Deb Fischer wrested the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate from Attorney General Jon Bruning Tuesday night, riding a burst of late momentum to pull off an unexpected victory.
Her stunning come-from-behind performance amounts to a warning flare about the volatility of the primary season and the unintended impact of outside groups. (snip)
Outside groups like the Club for Growth and Jim DeMint's Senate Conservative Fund began chipping away at Bruning's favorability through a string of hard-hitting attack ads, with the goal of boosting Stenberg.
But the unintended effect was lifting Fischer, a poorly funded candidate who managed to stay out of the mud.
The Club for Growth and Senator DeMint are not exactly beloved by the establishment. Combining their force with the grass roots momentum Sarah Palin can generate amounts to a nightmare for Republican elites. They remember Delaware and feel doom over blowing a Senate seat pick-up. They also don't relish the prospect of an unbending conservative winning a seat in the Senate, where the clubby atmosphere makes life pretty comfortable, even if you are in the minority. Makes it more difficult to get along with "my friends across the aisle," as they say. Dick Lugar got along great.
But in Nebraska, Fischer has to be favored. Republicans have a 170,000 vote registration advantage, and the Democrats are recycling Debra Winger's ex-boyfriend, Bob Kerrey, who, when he left office went to live in New York City and head the New School for Social Research in Greenwich Village, leaving it last year.
Dustin Hawkins of About.com makes the case that despite the fond hopes of many in the media and GOP elites, Sarah Palin is proving a potent force.
Many naysayers have dismissed Palin's influence, instead suggesting that her endorsements had little effect as the candidates were rising in the polls anyway. But the coincidences are far too many and the number of out-of-nowhere candidates to win (or come darn close to winning) are simply too plentiful to ignore. In 2010, it was Governor Nikki Haley in South Carolina, Joe Miller in Alaska, and Karen Handel in Georgia (among many others) who were given big boosts in their eventual underdog primary bids.
Most notably, Sarah Palin did not endorse a candidate for President in 2012, though both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum claimed at one point or another they had her support. (Palin stated she voted for Newt in Alaska, but her "keep the race going" strategy was hardly a ringing endorsement.)
Sarah Palin put out this statement:
As recently as a week ago, Deb Fischer was dismissed by the establishment. Why? Because she is not part of the good old boys' permanent political class. The message from the people of Nebraska is simple and powerful: America is looking for real change in Washington, and commonsense conservatives like Deb Fischer represent that change. I applaud Moms like Deb Fischer who are bold enough to step up and run on a conservative platform to restore America and protect our children's future. Congratulations to the people of Nebraska. As the Huskers' fight song goes: "The eyes of the land, upon every hand, are looking at you. Fight on for victory!"
There is a populist storm brewing. The tea party base is aroused, focused, and will turn out in elections. Media fantasies about its demise are based on the shallowest of perceptions. The populist uprising is in its second phase; having rallied and ascertained they are not alone, and effortlessly connected by the internet in real time, government downsizers are organizing and turning out.
Update: Next up: Texas. John Kraushaar of National Journal explains:
The next big contest is shaping up in Texas, where conservatives have rallied around former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz against establishment-favored Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Dewhurst, by virtue of a deep war chest and connections to Texas politicos, is expected to comfortably finish in first place in the May 29 primary. Cruz, for his part, hasn't yet translated the outside conservative excitement in his polling, still lagging a distant second.
But Cruz-backers are anticipating Dewhurst will draw less than 50 percent of the vote, a scenario that would prompt a July 31 runoff. Under that scenario, Cruz (if he finishes second) would be able to make the race into a one-on-one fight between the establishment and the grassroots. Don't underestimate how quickly outside money could come in if Cruz looks to be within striking distance-just as Richard Mourdock's fundraising spiked after polls showed him competitive with Lugar.
I have met Ted Cruz and listened to him give a talk. He is extremely impressive: handsome, articulate, and whip-smart. I would love to see him in the Senate. Comparisons to Marco Rubio seem apt, though I am no expert on Texas politics.