Republican state senator Deb Fischer will face off against former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Democrat, in this fall's election for the United States Senate, following her surprise victory in Tuesday's Nebraska primary election.
Fischer won the GOP nomination after a campaign in which public attention was often dominated by her two main rivals, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, and State Treasurer Don Stenberg.
There were few policy differences between the three conservative candidates. All favored repealing the health care reform law, and favored restraining the role of government.
But with Stenberg and groups supporting him attacking Bruning, the perceived frontrunner, Fischer was able to move past them both, despite being heavily outspent on advertising. She took 41 percent of the vote, compared to Bruning's 36 percent and Stenberg's 19, with four percent split among three other candidates.
In her victory speech, Fischer said she had run a grassroots campaign. "We are Nebraskans and that's how you campaign in Nebraska. That's how you get elected in Nebraska. And that's how you better represent Nebraska," she said.
In a statement, Stenberg said he would support the nominee, adding it's important to have a Republican United States Senate to move the country in a new direction.
After conceding defeat, Bruning pledged to support Fischer as well. " She ran a good campaign. She's a smart person. And I'll support her," Bruning said, adding "Whatever she does, I think she's the right person. It's a very clear choice between her and Bob Kerrey."
On the Democratic side, Kerrey won 81 percent of the vote, with the rest split among four other candidates. Looking forward to the fall campaign in a state where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats, Kerrey pledged to rise above partisanship. "I will serve what's in the best interest of the state of Nebraska. I will serve what's in the best interest of the United States of America. --not the Democratic caucus -- but what's in the best interest of this state and the people of this country," he declared. Kerrey will be win the seat currently held by Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, who won it when Kerrey declined to run for reelection in 2000. He then became president of the New School in New York City, where he has lived for the last decade.
Fischer, who grew up in Lincoln and married a Sandhills rancher, stressed her newness on the statewide political scene. "We don't need the same type of person who supposedly is going to represent us in Washington. We need somebody different, somebody who's tough, somebody who's effective, somebody who is a Nebraskan," she said.
Kerrey also grew up in Lincoln, where he returned after fighting in Vietnam and was a businessman before being serving one term as governor and two as Senator. He stressed the need to reform and protect Medicaid and Social Security.
"Every politician that gets up and gives a speech talks about our children and our grandchildren okay, fine. So are you putting your money where your mouth is? Or are you just being another windbag talking about something you're not going to do anything about?" he asked.
The campaign is expected to be one of the highest profile races in the country this fall, with plenty of money flowing in as both parties contend for an open seat that could help decide who controls the Senate.