Nebraska state senator Deb Fischer scored a come-from-way-behind victory yesterday to win the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate.
Fischer now faces Democrat Bob Kerrey in the November general election to replace the retiring Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson.
With all precincts in, Fischer clinched 41 percent of the vote, followed by Attorney General Jon Bruning with 36 percent and State Treasurer Don Stenberg with 19 percent, according to unofficial results from the Nebraska Secretary of State.
In her victory speech, Fischer wasted no time turning her attention to Kerrey, who has lived in New York City for the past decade.
“We need somebody who’s different, somebody who’s tough, somebody who’s a Nebraskan,” she told a giddy crowd at the Cornhusker Marriott in downtown Lincoln.
In his concession speech in Lincoln, Bruning thanked his family and staffers, but credited Fischer and Stenberg for being worthy opponents, and said now it’s time for for the Republican Party to unite. He said they all share the same goals.
While many were stunned by Fischer’s upset of Bruning — who had better name recognition and almost nine times as much campaign cash — political consultant Phil Young was not one of them.
He said about 11 days ago poll numbers began to move in a way that he’s seen before — in a way that’s hard to stop, barring a big event. Instead of something happening to stop Bruning’s cascading numbers, Fischer got a boost from endorsements by Republican darling Sarah Palin, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry and former presidential contender Herman Cain.
But Young said Fischer is a tough campaigner — he worked for her in her first campaign for the state legislature and he tells the story of how she turned down a dark country road and drove two miles to visit a voter. The man said he’d never been visited by a candidate before, and pledged his support.
But Fischer was handicapped by her refusal to step down from the legislature and spend time campaigning — taking away four months of precious time on the campaign trail.
However, she surely benefitted from the $2 million spent by two outside political action committees bashing Bruning and supporting Stenberg: The conservative Club for Growth opposed Bruning and U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund supported Stenberg.
Then came a last-minute weekend blitz of withering TV ads against Bruning and supporting Fischer by a super PAC called Ending Spending, which is bankrolled by Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts.
The Club for Growth released a statement tonight saying it was pleased Fischer defeated Bruning, saying it saw Bruning as “the least dependable candidate” on the principles of limited government and economic freedom.
“We are happy that our focus on exposing his record was successful,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola. “While we did not support Deb Fischer, we are encouraged by the strong pro-growth stands she took in this campaign, and we expect she will live up to those commitments in the Senate next year.”
Young said grassroots campaigning also played a big role in Fischer’s win. “Anybody that counts her out, they have another thing coming,” he said.
Deena Winter is a reporter for Nebraska Watchdog, which is affiliated with the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.