Why Sarah Palin's pick could triumph in Nebraska's US Senate race in fall
Tuesday's victory by Deb Fischer, who had the endorsement of Sarah Palin in the Nebraska GOP Senate primary, is an upset. But Fischer may in fact be the strongest Republican to run against Democrat Bob Kerrey, analysts say.
Deb Fischer, a little-known and relatively unfunded candidate for US Senate, pulled off an upset in the Nebraska GOP primary Tuesday, and will face Democrat Bob Kerrey in November. She beat Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, the favorite to win, 41 percent to Mr. Bruning's 36 percent. State Treasurer Don Stenberg got 19 percent of the vote.Skip to next paragraph
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It's the second time this month – following last week's toppling of Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana by challenger Richard Mourdock – that an insurgent defeated a more "establishment" candidate in a key Republican Senate primary.
While the temptation is to declare it another victory for the tea party – and possibly for Democrats looking to the general election – it's not that simple.
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Yes, Ms. Fischer, a Nebraska rancher who has served in the state legislature since 2004, received the endorsement of Sarah and Todd Palin. But she wasn't the tea party pick; she wasn't even more conservative than her opponents.
In fact, her two main competitors, Bruning and Mr. Stenberg, each earned endorsements from key tea party constituencies. Stenberg was the choice of Sen. Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina and his Senate Conservatives Fund, as well as the antitax Club for Growth.
Bruning – whom both Fischer and Stenberg sought to cast as the most "establishment" candidate – was endorsed by the Tea Party Express, Citizens United, and former GOP presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee.
A Public Policy Poll (PPP) just before the primary showed Fischer surging ahead – and also indicated that her surge had little to do with ideology. Bruning actually led among tea party voters, 39 percent to 36 percent; among those who described themselves as "very conservative," Fischer was barely leading, 38 percent to 37 percent.
"The shift in this race has a lot more to do with the candidates' images than it does with issues or philosophy," PPP noted in its analysis. Some political pundits have speculated that Fischer owes her victory primarily to the flawed natures of her opponents: Stenberg was a relatively weak candidate who has run for Senate, and lost, three previous times. Bruning has been the subject of scrutiny regarding his tenure as attorney general and the source of his wealth.