Nebraska's leading trio of Republican Senate candidates finally shared the same stage together Friday, and nobody got hurt.
Attorney General Jon Bruning, State Treasurer Don Stenberg and state Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine participated in a Nebraska Farm Bureau forum and offered their own variations of a strongly conservative message tethered to reduction of federal regulations and a commitment to limited government.
High on their hit lists were deficit spending, the health care reform law and, in particular, the Environmental Protection Agency.
Stenberg took a couple of indirect swipes at Bruning, repeating his campaign theme that Republicans need to nominate "a true conservative, not a pretend conservative" and choose someone "committed to public service, not personal financial gain."
Bruning ignored those darts, which Stenberg has tossed directly at the attorney general in earlier campaign statements.
All three candidates assured Farm Bureau members that they are friends of farmers and ranchers and would work to maintain some form of safety net for agriculture, but one that might be more tailored to crop and disaster insurance, as well as new trade opportunities, rather than direct farm payments.
"I'm the ag candidate; I'm the rural candidate in this race," said Fischer, who is a family rancher.
Bruning said that as attorney general he has demonstrated his willingness to "push back against these guys" when health care reform and EPA regulations intrude on individual and state rights.
Stenberg said he would sponsor legislation to require that every federal rule and regulation must be approved by Congress before they could become effective, and he'd attempt to repeal every major new regulation invoked by the Obama administration.
New regulations "shouldn't add to the cost of business," Fischer said.
Stenberg said the Obama administration has pushed America down "the dark road of socialism (toward) European socialism and huge government," and he'd join with the half-dozen senators currently in the conservative caucus to bring pressure on the Senate to begin to reverse that course.
The EPA would be on his endangered list, Stenberg said, along with the Department of Education and the Department of Energy.
Fischer said she'd like to "eliminate EPA" as part of an effort to limit government, but she cautioned that "you don't go in with an ax (and) you be judicious in what to cut."
Bruning said he'd vote to "skinny down" the EPA, Education and Energy, as well as the tax code.
Raising the issue of appropriations earmarks, Stenberg said: "If you want someone to bring back money for your favorite enterprise," he's not your candidate.
Both Bruning and Fischer said they'd like to gain a seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee alongside Republican Sen. Mike Johanns if Nebraska would be allowed two Republican seats on the committee.
Fischer said she'd also seek a seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee to help protect the interests of Offutt Air Force Base, and she'd like a committee assignment that would empower her to help meet the telecommunications needs of the state.
Stenberg said he would be prepared to "stand up to the leadership" in refusing to allow any committee assignments to be tied to any commitment to secure his votes.