As Bannon targets Republicans up for re-election including Deb Fischer, Nebraska conservatives wonder why and who could challenge her

October 11, 2017

Nebraska conservatives say they are puzzled by reports that former presidential adviser Stephen Bannon is targeting U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb.

Bannon has promised to back primary challengers to almost every Republican senator who is running for re-election next year, including Fischer.

“Even safe incumbents like (Wyoming Sen. John) Barrasso and Deb Fischer, they have to understand something,” Bannon said on the Fox News show “Hannity.” “Just voting is not good enough. You have to have a sense of urgency. Nobody’s safe. We are coming after all of them and we’re gonna win.”

Bannon is President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist who has returned to the helm of the conservative Breitbart News.

Bannon has also been controversial for his particular brand of populism and for his website providing a platform to white supremacists. Most recently he supported Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore over Luther Strange, who had support from Trump and members of the Republican establishment. Moore prevailed and is the Republican nominee to fill the seat left open by Jeff Sessions’ appointment as U.S. attorney general.

Now, Bannon says he’s turning his attention to 2018 — and Ted Cruz is the only senator whom he doesn’t plan to target.

But in Nebraska, hard-line conservative Trump supporters say they’re pleased with Fischer’s performance.

“My gosh, I mean, she’s a conservative,” said Doug Kagan of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom, “so I don’t understand why Bannon would want to run anyone against her.”

Bannon will support only candidates who agree to two conditions, according to a report in Bloomberg News: They will vote against Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky as majority leader, and they will vote to end senators’ ability to block legislation by filibustering.

Fischer campaign manager Allison Bedell did not respond to questions about where Fischer stands on those two issues.

But in a statement, Bedell said: “The senator continues to work hard every single day and remains focused on serving Nebraskans. She and her staff have an excellent working relationship with the White House and the administration. Recall she has already hosted both the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Transportation in Nebraska — at their request — just this year.”

Fischer, a first-term senator who served eight years in the Nebraska Legislature, won a surprise victory over two well-known Republicans in the Senate primary five years ago. She sailed to victory over Democratic former Sen. Bob Kerrey in the general election.

Fischer, who ranches near Valentine, received the endorsement of Sarah Palin during that primary, leading some national media outlets to label her as an insurgent Tea Party-style candidate.

But Fischer has hardly been an anti-establishment crusader during her time in office. While pushing conservative approaches, she’s also been willing to back bipartisan compromises along the way, such as highway funding and education policy.

And she serves as a member of Senate leadership, both as counsel to McConnell and a member of the Senate GOP whip team — positions she touts as giving her an opportunity to take concerns directly to leadership.

The news website FiveThirtyEight, which tracks political polls and other statistics, says Fischer so far has voted with Trump almost 92 percent of the time.

Like many Republicans, she’s faced some backlash from constituents lately, particularly over health care and over her support for Trump’s nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

Lincoln City Council member Jane Raybould, a Democrat, plans to challenge Fischer in the general election.

Nebraska Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb said she thinks Bannon’s words are more than idle threats.

“There are enough Republicans that have ambition in our state that would go for it,” she said.

But former state Republican Party Chairman J.L. Spray said Fischer has broad support among Republicans in the state.

“I’ve never really heard anybody on our side be dissatisfied by Sen. Fischer,” he said. “It’d be hard to run to the right of her, I think.”

Political consultant Chris Peterson, a former state Republican Party executive director, said he hadn’t heard any names of Republicans who might challenge Fischer.

“It’s hard to imagine what a primary opponent that would be successful against her looks like,” he said. “I don’t know what their issue would be or that they would rally enough support to be credible against her.”

World-Herald staff writer Joseph Morton contributed to this report.

roseann.moring@owh.com, 402-444-1084