Bruning abruptly pivoted during the debate from a conversation on Attorney General Eric Holder to accusing Stenberg of requesting to follow his 14-year-old daughter, Lauren, on Twitter.
"I'd like to know why does a 62-year-old man want to follow a 14-year-old girl on Twitter," Bruning said. "She said, 'Dad, that's kind of creepy.' "
Bruning continued, despite objections, saying, "I'm just kind of curious" and "I think that's kind of weird." He repeated several times that his daughter is 14.
"Quite honestly, I don't do my own Twitter," Stenberg replied. "[Campaign aide] Dan Parsons does it for me. We've got thousands and thousands of folks, and as soon as we get out of here, I'm going to call Dan to make sure that that's taken off. I don't think that's appropriate."
The very public nature of Bruning’s accusation raises questions about the increasingly influential and visible role that Twitter has played in politics this election cycle. It is common for campaign-oriented Twitter accounts to be run by a member of a candidate’s communications staff, and the tool has been used effectively to communicate directly with the public, as well as to engage with members of a rival candidate’s staff.
Children of candidates on the national level have often voluntarily played a role in campaigns this cycle, as well — Jon Huntsman’s adult daughters and Mitt Romney’s and Rick Perry’s adult sons tweeted from the campaign trail.
Lauren Bruning’s Twitter account is private, however, meaning other users have to request to follow her account. Parsons told the Omaha World-Herald he does not remember specifically following her account.
"We use several search engines to follow people, and we follow thousands,'' he said. Stenberg’s account is currently following 1,666 other users on Twitter.
Stenberg’s last tweet was during the debate, but before Bruning brought up his use of the social media tool.
Bruning and Stenberg are both GOP candidates running for retiring Sen.
Ben Nelson’s (D) seat in the Senate. Tuesday night was the first major
debate between the candidates, held in Scottsbluff, Neb.
Bruning is leading in the polls, despite Tea Party favorite Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) endorsement for Stenberg. The Hill ranks this race as leaning Republican.