Rancher upsets favorites for Nebraska GOP Senate nod

By Jim Webster

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, May 16, 2012- Debra S. Fischer, a rancher and state senator from Nebraska's sparsely-populated sand hills, upset two better-known men with experience in statewide elections, yesterday to win the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate this fall. She will face Democratic nominee Bob Kerrey, a former governor and U.S. senator who has been a university president in New York.

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Fischer's come-from behind campaign was waged on a shoestring - raising $395,000 compared with $3.5 million for establishment favorite Jon Bruning, the state's attorney general - but with last-minute backing by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and from television advertising by a “super PAC” financed by Joe Ricketts, whose family owns the Chicago Cubs. Fischer came out on top with 41.1 percent, followed by Bruning with 35 percent to 19 percent for former State Treasurer and former Attorney General Don Stenberg, a “tea party” favorite who had the endorsement and financial support of Sen. Jim DeMint., R-S.C., and the Club for Growth.

But Fischer had modest financial support from individual Nebraska farmers and ranchers in Nebraska, several of them giving $1,000 or more. She also had $2,500 from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, an unusual primary campaign contribution from any of the national producer political action committees that are tracked regularly by Agri-Pulse.

Bruning also could claim some agribusiness backing, receiving several thousands of dollars from members of the Gottsch family, who control one of Nebraska's largest beef cattle operations. Patrick Gottsch, owner of RFD-TV, was not among family members on the list of Bruning donors but he contributed $2,500 to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.

Fischer was elected to Nebraska's one-house legislature by a 125-vote margin in 2004 from the largest (by geography) legislative district in the state - all or part of 13 counties, the most populated of which is Custer with 11,000 and the largest city is Broken Bow with 3,559. She chairs the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee and is a member of the Natural Resources Committee.

Her ranch near Valentine is a family affair with her husband Bruce and three grown sons. Her campaign web site claims that it has been recognized for conservation and environmental stewardship by the Nebraska Natural Resources Districts, Nebraska Cattleman and the Society for Range Management. She cites her membership in Nebraska Cattlemen, the Sandhills Cattlemen's Association, Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Agricultural Leadership Council, AgBuilders of Nebraska and University of Nebraska President's Advisory Council. She was a local school board member and president of the Nebraska Association of School Boards.


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