It's August 2011. The next general election will not be held for some 14 months, yet Sen. Ben Nelson is up with ads attempting to reverse his dismal poll numbers, and attacking his Republican opponents through a malicious direct mail fundraising appeal and full-page newspaper ads. What gives?
It's a well-known fact that Nelson's poll numbers suck. A media contact told me that he had recently seen poll numbers that showed Nelson getting beat by Republicans Jon Bruning, Deb Fischer, Pat Flynn and Don Stenberg. Nelson still can't make public appearances that are not strictly controlled; he held not one town hall meeting in the month of August, while his colleague, Sen. Mike Johanns, criss-crossed the state and held nearly 20. Those who've seen him or heard him speak in recent weeks report he looks old (he's threescore and ten years old), tired, broken (arm in a sling), bitter and frankly not ready for running for reelection. He's become the Crazy Great Uncle Ben who everyone avoids at the family picnic.
Whether Nelson runs for reelection remains to be seen. If he doesn't, he can take his federal campaign funds and pour them into his Nelson Institute Fund, and endow the Ben Nelson Chair for Socialized Medicine at the University of Nebraska or buy more statues of himself for McCook.
However, if he runs, what kind of reelection campaign Nelson intends is clear. It's the Hoagland Reelect. The late Peter Hoagland, who represented Nebraska's Second Congressional District from 1989 to 1994, repeatedly ignored the wishes of his constituents and supported liberal legislation on EMPLOYER MANDATES FOR HEALTH CARE (sound familiar?) and other issues. After facing a nail biter reelection in 1992 and being "upside down" as far as his positive and negative poll numbers (sound familiar?), Hoagland and his advisers decided that the only way to be reelected in 1994 was to attack his Republican opponent Jon Christensen incessantly (sound familiar?). Indeed, Hoagland went up with negative campaign ads against Christensen mere hours after the May 1994 primary and never went "dark" until election day. And how many positive ads did Hoagland run about Hoagland and his record? Zero.
Hoagland's tactics, like Nelson's current tactics, were negative, bitter, divisive and often false. Hoagland ran an ad featuring an Omaha school teacher claiming that Christensen came to her door campaigning and advocating book banning. Christensen denied the claim and took a lie detector test to establish his veracity. Hoagland challenged the results, which led the Omaha World-Herald to offer to administer the test, which Christensen willingly agreed to. Christensen passed with flying colors. But that didn't stop Hoagland and his ad visors. The negative, nasty and false ads continued, and the Wall St. Journal labeled the campaign the most negative campaign in America.
Did it work for the Democrats? Depends on what their goal was. Christensen won the election by a slim margin of less than 2,000 votes. However, Hoagland's incessant negative campaign damaged democracy as a whole and forced Christensen to spend over $1 million in 1996 just to reintroduce himself to Nebraskans and overcome the lies perpetuated by Democrats and their Union Boss allies.
Nelson hopes that his Hoagland Strategy will be more successful than the 1994 campaign run by its namesake. It won't be. Nebraskans are fed up with Ben Nelson, politicians who embarrass our state with moves like the Cornhusker Kickback and vote against the interests of our citizens, and who will deceive and denigrate others just to hold onto a public office that rightly belongs to us--the citizens. I look forward to joining my fellow Nebraskans in giving Ben the boot on November 6, 2012.