The Magazine

Bob Kerrey’s Worst Nightmare

Deb Fischer is running away with the Senate race in Nebraska.

Sep 10, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 48 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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But it’s also clear Fischer’s earning her high poll numbers. On the trail, she’s modest and unassuming. She looks more comfortable talking with folks in the back of a crowd than speechifying in front of one. At a factory groundbreaking in Lexington, Fischer stood out in the hot sun and strong winds, shaking hands and telling jokes, until nearly every person had left. Nebraska’s a large state, but Fischer does at least three or four events daily, driving several hours and hundreds of miles. On the interstate en route to a building dedication in North Platte, her blue Ford SUV zooms near. Spotting me in the right lane, she smiles and waves from the passenger seat before popping a French fry in her mouth. 

“I like the fact that she’s real,” says Linette Butler, a supporter from Kearney. “Down to earth,” say others.

Pat Dorwart gets to the heart of Fischer’s Cornhusker State appeal. “She just thinks like Nebraskans,” she says.

Debra Strobel was born in Lincoln to a civil engineer father and a schoolteacher mother. She’s 100 percent German and was raised Lutheran, though she attends a Presbyterian church now. She met Bruce Fischer, a third-generation cattle rancher from rural Cherry County, at the University of Nebraska. In 1972, she dropped out to marry him and moved to Valentine to become a rancher.

“You’re young, you’re in love, and it’s a wonderful place to live,” Fischer says. “It’s been a wonderful place to raise a family.” The Fischers have three grown sons, all of whom work on the ranch.

Fischer says she’s wanted to be involved in public policymaking since junior high school. Her political career began in 1979 when she was elected to the local school board. Over the course of 20 years, she was a member of a few school boards and eventually president of the state’s school board association. In 2004, Fischer ran successfully for Nebraska’s nonpartisan, unicameral legislature, and she was reelected in 2008.

Fischer calls herself a pro-life, limited government conservative. She’s for repealing Obamacare, opposes No Child Left Behind, and says she’s “happy” that Mitt Romney appears serious about addressing entitlement spending—though she quickly adds she doesn’t support cutting benefits to current retirees. When asked why she’s a conservative, she pauses, as if she had never considered the question before.

“It’s who I am,” she finally says, matter-of-factly.

In Lincoln, Fischer has earned a reputation as an effective legislator. Craig Sefranek calls Fischer a “negotiator” and says she’s succeeded in the legislature because she works well with Democrats. “She talks soft but carries a big stick,” Sefranek says. 

When Fischer hears this, she laughs. “I’m surprised someone thinks I talk softly!”

Mike Flood, the speaker of the legislature and a close friend, recalls Fischer’s proposal last year to move money from the general fund to shore up the state’s budget for much-needed highway improvement. The bill faced significant pushback from several Democrats, and the debate looked to be heading toward a stalemate. “Deb talked to everyone,” Flood says, and soon enough, she had the votes. Today, orange cones line Interstate 80 for miles as construction crews work to widen the highway.

Fischer is characteristically blunt about her influence.

“Yeah, I get stuff done,” she says. She takes pride in the fact that in her nearly eight years as a legislator, she hasn’t held one press conference.

“I believe you have to develop relationships,” Fischer says. “I don’t believe you need to have a press conference to get something done.”

Michael Warren is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.

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