Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning regrets comparing welfare recipients to raccoons during a weekend speech on his campaign for the Republican Senate nomination, a top aide said.
"It was an inartful statement and one Jon regrets making," Bruning campaign manager Trent Fellers said in an email. "As Attorney General, Jon's been a strong supporter of welfare reform and giving welfare recipients a hand up and not just a hand out."
Bruning made the comment while criticizing endangered species regulations, which he said had hindered a roads project near the central Nebraska town of Sargent. Bruning said biologists placed buckets with rat carcasses along the roadside to capture burying beetles, an endangered species, so they could release them two miles away. He said a farmer went to the site at night and video-taped raccoons eating the beetles out of the bucket.
"They're not stupid," Bruning said. "They're going to do the easy way, if we make it easy for them, just like welfare recipients all across America. If we don't incent them to work, they're going to take the easy route."
Bruning made the comment Saturday at the Heartland Liberty Fest in Papillion, an event co-sponsored by the Libertarian Party, the Nebraska Republican Party and the right-leaning Americans for Prosperity. His statements were video-taped for a liberal organization, American Bridge 21st Century, and posted on YouTube.
Bruning is considered the front-runner in the Republican party's efforts to unseat vulnerable Democratic incumbent Ben Nelson. Nelson, the lone Democrat in Nebraska's congressional delegation, has been aggressively targeted in the 2012 election but had raised more than twice as much money as Bruning as of last month.
Fellers said Bruning is committed to growing the work force for those struggling, "instead of growing the government, which unfortunately has been the focus of Barack Obama and Ben Nelson these last several years."
Bruning's comments may haunt him in general-election television ads if he wins the Republican nomination, but are not likely to sway core Republican voters, said University of Nebraska Lincoln political scientist Mike Wagner. Wagner said the analogy was "stupid politically, and insulting interpersonally," but he added that GOP voters support the general idea that Bruning wanted to convey.
"It seemed to play well," Wagner said. "Nobody booed. Most Republican voters are sympathetic to the idea that people on welfare should get off of it. While the comments were certainly derogatory, the policy position that fewer people should be on welfare has support" within the party.