Nebraska’s Jon Bruning regrets comparing welfare recipients to raccoons

The campaign of Republican state Attorney General Jon Bruning, the GOP frontrunner for the 2012 Nebraska Senate race, expressed regret yesterday for inflammatory comments Bruning made about welfare recipients.

During an address to an audience in Papillion, Neb. Saturday night, Bruning compared people on welfare to raccoons that feast on easy prey--in his example, endangered beetles.

He told the audience of state road road workers who were trapping and releasing beetles as part of preservation effort, only to have local raccoons eat them out of the traps. "The raccoons, they're not stupid, they're going to do the easy way if we make it easy for 'em," Bruning said. "Just like welfare recipients all across America. If we don't incent 'em to work, they're going to take the easy route."

You can watch the video of Bruning's comments below via Democratic trackers at American Bridge 21st Century:

[Read more about the people behind American Bridge here.]

Bruning's campaign manager Trent Fellers wrote in an email to the Omaha World-Herald that "it was an inartful statement and one Jon regrets making," the newspaper reported Wednesday. "As attorney general, Jon's been a strong supporter of welfare reform and giving welfare recipients a hand up and not just a handout."

Bruning has been steadily working to build support among conservatives and the tea party faithful in Nebraska (applause for Bruning's comments about welfare recipients can be briefly heard at the end of the video). Bruning scored the Tea Party Express' first endorsement this cycle, a decision that rankled local tea party supporters who suggested they may have preferred a different candidate.

And conservative credentials are of the utmost importance to Bruning. One of the lines of attack his past challengers have used against him (he ran for Senate in 2008 but dropped out prior to the primary) is that he used to be an outspoken liberal. As a law student at the University of Nebraska, Bruning wrote an article advocating abortion rights, gun control, gays in the military and the Boy Scouts, and affirmative action. Bruning's campaign now contends the attorney general's views have changed and he's since demonstrated his conservative values in office.

Bruning remains the top Republican to take on Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson next fall but so far faces competition for the GOP nomination from multiple candidates including state treasurer Don Stenberg, state Sen. Deb Fischer, and businessman Pat Flynn. Nelson defeated Stenberg in 2000 by just two percentage points.

This is the second time in recent weeks the Bruning campaign has issued an apology. Outdoor retailer Cabela's objected to a Bruning campaign email that appeared to imply they had endorsed Bruning. The candidate's team apologized and blamed an unnamed staffer for confusing two events.