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Deb Fischer clinches Nebraska Senate nomination in surprise upset

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Fischer (Nati Harnik/AP)

State Sen. Deb Fischer won the Republican nomination in Nebraska's Senate race Tuesday, beating odds-on favorite Jon Bruning in a surprise upset.

Fischer narrowly edged out the state Attorney General 41 to 36 percent with 91.5 percent of precincts reporting. State Treasurer Don Stenberg received 19 percent and three additional candidates divided the remainder of Tuesday's vote.

The race had long been regarded as a two-man fight between Bruning, who earned early establishment as well as some tea party support, and Stenberg-- the party's 2006 nominee. Stenberg won endorsements from South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint (including DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund) the Club for Growth, and FreedomWorks. Bruning boasted support from Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and the Tea Party Express.

But after months of infighting between Bruning and Stenberg, Fischer began to strongly surge last week and the race's outcome was quickly thrown into doubt.

Fischer, who has never held statewide office, last week announced endorsements from Sarah and Todd Palin as well as Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, and received support from AmeriTrade co-founder Joe Ricketts. These endorsements, combined with polling showing Fischer within striking distance, caused national observers as well as her competitors to take notice.

As evidence of Stenberg and Fischer's perceived strengths, Bruning's campaign ran an ad attacking both candidates in the race's final week.

Fischer is now set to face former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey, who easily won his party's nomination Tuesday against token opposition for the seat currently held by retiring Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson.

Republicans had viewed the race as one of their strongest pickup opportunities with Bruning as the nominee. But polls also showed Fischer leading Kerrey in hypothetical general election matchups.

Though Republican loyalties were significantly split in the primary, many groups immediately switched gears Tuesday night following Fischer's victory.

"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," Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in a statement. Chocola emphasized that his organization opposed Bruning "as the least dependable candidate on the principles of limited government and economic freedom" and cast the night's results as a victory.

National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman John Cornyn congratulated Fischer in a release Tuesday night and offered a preview of the contrasts the party plans to draw ahead of November.

"The difference in this race couldn't be more clear," Cornyn said. "Deb is a small business rancher, mother and conservative leader who believes we need to spend less, balance our budget and repeal ObamaCare, while her opponent supports bigger government and higher taxes."

The NRSC also referred to Kerrey as a New York City liberal. Republicans this year challenged Kerrey's residency and therefore his eligibility to run in the race-- an attack that will undoubtedly continue as the race continues.

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