Fischer, Kerrey will face off in Nebraska

State Sen. Deb Fischer, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Nebraska, smiles as early voting results come in Tuesday in Lincoln, Neb. (Associated Press)
State Sen. Deb Fischer, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Nebraska, smiles as early voting results come in Tuesday in Lincoln, Neb. (Associated Press)

Race may determine control of Senate

WASHINGTON – An insurgent Republican lawmaker in Nebraska will square off against former Sen. Bob Kerrey this fall in the state’s U.S. Senate race, as Democrats look to hold onto the Senate seat and control of one part of Capitol Hill.

In Tuesday’s Republican primary, state Sen. Deb Fischer rode a wave of discontent with the GOP establishment to best Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, the preferred candidate of Washington, D.C.-based Republicans, and Treasurer Don Stenberg in a race that drew national attention from outside groups in its final, unpredictable weeks.

The outcome underscored years-old divisions within the GOP, and set the stage for a competitive general election race that could determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

Fischer’s victory marked also another win for the party’s anti-establishment movement just a week after a tea party-supported Richard Mourdock beat Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar in that state’s GOP primary.

Elsewhere Tuesday, presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney inched closer to his all-but-certain nomination with wins in two more states. Romney was expected to pick up most – if not all – of Oregon’s 25 delegates. Nebraska Republicans also picked Romney although no delegates would be allotted in a vote that amounts to a beauty contest. Romney began the day 171 delegates short of the 1,144 needed for the nomination and was on pace to get them before the month ended.

The biggest race Tuesday was Nebraska’s GOP Senate primary.

Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, a two-term moderate, is retiring and both parties are eyeing his seat. Republicans see an opportunity in their drive to win back control of the Senate. Democrats control the Senate 51-47, plus two independents who caucus with the majority.

Kerrey, who served Nebraska as governor and as a U.S. senator before leaving Congress in 2001 to become a university president in New York, reluctantly agreed to run again to help give Democrats a shot at holding a seat they’ve long controlled.

Republicans in Washington turned to Bruning, who has been successful in statewide races and had raised $3.5 million through the end of April.

But in the final stretch of the Senate campaign, he found his nomination hardly assured. Fischer, a rancher from rural Nebraska, mounted a feisty campaign that attracted attention and endorsements from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, failed presidential contender Herman Cain and other tea party darlings.

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