Kerrey leans on name recognition in race for U.S. Senate

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Deb Fischer, left, and Democratic candidate Bob Kerrey, right, meet for a debate in Omaha on Friday, Sept. 28 . The 69-year-old Kerrey is relying on his military experience and past success in Nebraska to help swing votes his way.

Story by Jake Sorensen, NewsNetNebraska

Former governor Bob Kerrey hopes name recognition helps him win Nebraska’s U.S. Senate race. Republican challenger Deb Fischer believes that people’s recognition of Kerrey will hurt him.

So how does one decide whom to vote for?

A recent Vanderbilt University study revealed that “in low-information races, a candidate’s name recognition alone positively affects voter support.”  The study concluded that voters who recognize a candidate’s name from signs, ads or anywhere else are more likely to vote for that candidate if they know nothing about any others in that race.

UNL senior Josh Chavez  said he will vote this year, and name recognition will be a factor in who he votes for.

“I’m really not a fan of politics,” Chavez said. “I know the names but that’s about all.”

Name recognition in the Nebraska U.S. Senate race

Name recognition may be a factor in the 2012 Nebraska U.S. Senate race.  Kerrey, the well-known former governor and senator of the Democratic Party, tends to be more of a household name compared to Deb Fischer, the Republican candidate.  UNL political scientist Elizabeth Theiss-Morse said because of that, this race is different than past years.

“Kerrey was a governor and senator and highly regarded, so I think it helps,”  Theiss-Morse said, “but is it enough to push him over the edge and win?  I don’t think so because he’s the Democrat running in a heavily Republican state.”

The 69-year-old Kerrey served as Nebraska governor for four years in the 1980s and as a senator for the state from 1989-2001, before heading to New York for 10 years and coming back to run for Senate again.  Despite an overall successful original stint, Republican Party campaign vice president Jordan McGrain said leaving the state hurts Kerrey and his name recognition.

“I don’t think it ever helps to live for a decade or more in another state, especially in an area as liberal as Greenwich, N.Y., and then try to come to Nebraska and appeal to the people of this state that you’re best suited to represent their interests in Washington,” McGrain said.

Banking on a name

Erick Mellgren, an advisor for Kerrey’s campaign, disagreed, saying Kerrey has already built enough ‘credit’ in the state from the past to be able to use his name as a positive.

“With younger people who weren’t alive or maybe younger people who don’t remember Bob because they were kids when he was a governor or senator, he’s had to reintroduce himself to those people,” Mellgren said, “but I think the older generation remembers that he was a governor and senator in a red-minded state and they take notice of that.”

Mellgren said that the notion of a 10-year absence as being negative is an incorrect assessment of Kerrey and his chances, noting that it’s common for people to leave the state for college and jobs before eventually returning.

“People should see Bob coming back as a positive for the things he’s learned away from the state to help the country,” Mellgren said.

Republican senatorial candidate Deb Fischer speaks to a crowd in Lincoln, Neb. Despite Bob Kerrey's name recognition, she hopes Nebraska's tradition of voting Republican will help her win the race.

Lincoln Journal Star political reporter Don Walton said to help counteract the Republicans’ negative claims against him, Kerrey’s campaign has begun to try to appeal to Nebraskans by running ads featuring his military service.

“I think that’s important because Nebraska voters honor veterans and military service and a lot of people I think don’t know Kerrey’s life story because he’s been out of the public for so long,” Walton said.

Nebraskans may remember the 2004 election cycle for governor between Tom Osborne and Dave Heineman. Despite Osborne’s status in the state as a coach and congressman, Heineman won the vote. While some may compare this election to that, Walton said it’s not a perfect comparison, because Heineman was an incumbent.

“Osborne’s name certainly helped him as he was the favorite up until the election, but since Heineman was already established in office, it’s not the same battle as it is for Kerrey and Fischer,” Walton said.

Being a red state is one thing going against Kerrey, as he runs in the Democratic Party.  The state has voted Republican the past nine elections despite District 1 voting for Barack Obama in 2008. Theiss-Morse said the state’s ‘red’ history will be a bigger factor than people think.

“It would be an incredible uphill climb for any Democratic candidate against the Republicans in the Senate race,” Theiss-Morse said.

As the election creeps closer, Chavez knows he’ll have to pick a candidate to support and vote for in November.  He plans on choosing based on the creativity and platform of their advertisements.

“Bob Kerrey seems like a quality choice because of his experience, but Fischer is kind of an unknown,” Chavez said. “I’m not sure people really know her yet.”

Despite that sentiment, Fischer still held a lead by 10 percent in the latest polls in advance of November’s election.  Kerrey will need to lean more on his name recognition than ever before to turn the state ‘blue’ in his favor.


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