Bob Kerrey launched an extensive, statewide TV ad campaign Monday featuring a trio of local residents from Deb Fischer's Sandhills surroundings accusing her of suing her ranching neighbor in an attempted land grab.
Kerrey's Senate campaign will blanket the state with the saturation $330,000 ad buy this week that raises questions about Fischer's character.
Kerrey flew to news conferences in five communities to suggest that "this is a story that Nebraskans need to hear" in judging a candidate's values and deciding whether Fischer can be trusted.
The Fischer campaign swiftly accused Kerrey of "character assassination" and "gutter politics."
"Before the Fischers sold a parcel of their (own) land, their lawyer advised them to clarify the land boundaries through the legal system," Fischer campaign spokesman Daniel Keylin said.
But the record shows that Fischer and her husband, Bruce, attempted to acquire the land owned by neighbors Les and Betty Kime three times before they filed a lawsuit in 1995 claiming the land, Kerrey spokesman Chris Triebsch said.
The Cherry County District Court ruled in favor of the Kimes in 1997.
By that time, Kerrey said, the Kimes, whom he described as an elderly couple, had paid $40,000 in legal fees "just to defend their own land."
In the TV commercial, Dorothy Lord, a neighbor of both the Kimes and the Fischers, said the lawsuit "speaks a lot about (Deb Fischer's) character."
The Kimes had allowed the Fischers to "graze their cattle (on that land) for years and didn't charge them anything," Lord said.
"I will not be silent," she said.
Don Pettigrew, who surveyed the land, said "the Fischers knew 100 percent what they were doing by suing the Kimes for land they did not own." Pettigrew described the land along the Snake River as "very valuable land."
"Neighbors do not sue neighbors," Pettigrew said.
"It just isn't right," said Pat Donovan, a tribal judge for the Sioux Tribe, who lives in Valentine.
"There are people who are scared to cross the Fischers," Donovan said in the ad.
Speaking for the Fischer campaign, Keylin said: "Rather than focus on the issues or his record, Mr. Kerrey is turning to the politics of personal destruction."
Tentative plans were made for Fischer to personally respond at a news conference Tuesday.
"This is a story about two neighbors," Kerrey said at a news conference in a hangar at Duncan Aviation in Lincoln. "A good neighbor and a not so good neighbor."
The Kimes allowed the Fischers to graze their cattle free of charge, Kerrey said, and "the Fischers repaid that generosity by suing the Kimes for that land through a rare legal maneuver known as adverse possession."
That action allows somebody who possesses the land of another to claim title to that land.
The court determined that the Kimes had the deeded title and were paying the taxes on that land.
Paul Johnson, campaign manager for Kerrey, said the TV ad will be "running for some time."
"There could be a follow-up ad," he said during a telephone interview. "It's a bit of a chess game now. But it's an issue that will be with us the rest of the campaign."
With the Senate struggle entering its final three weeks, both campaigns appeared to be adequately funded and ready for battle.
Kerrey raised nearly $1.7 million during the last three months, bringing his total money raised to $4.5 million, according to a campaign finance report released Sunday night. Kerrey entered October with $795,000 in cash on hand.
Fischer raised $2.4 million, giving her a total of about $4.1 million. She entered the month with more than $1.4 million in cash on hand.