By Nate Tenopir
In an election where the establishment on both sides fought for Nebraska’s
empty seat in the U.S. Senate, it was the long-shot rancher from Valentine that ruled the day. Nine months after Deb Fischer was barely a part of the race, she earned a clear victory against Bob Kerrey and became the next senator from Nebraska.
With 97 percent of precincts reporting late Tuesday night, Fischer was declared the victor by a 58 percent to 42 percent margin, defeating Nebraska’s former governor and U.S. senator, by more than 122,000 votes.
“I look around this room, and I see so many volunteers from the very beginning,” Fischer said at her victory party at the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln. “You folks were here for me when we weren’t given much of a chance at all. Well, we formed a great grassroots organization. We worked hard, and hey, we’re here today.”
Fischer’s campaign got a boost after the primary with support of U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns and Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman.
“She won because she stood for the right things,” Heineman said. “What me and Deb did in this state is a balanced budget, lowering taxes, controlling spending…all the things we care about. And she ran a positive campaign.”
Johanns echoed the same sentiment.
“What an incredible campaign she ran from the primary right up to the general election,” Johanns said. “The thing that I’m most proud of though is that Deb ran a positive campaign. Everyone here tonight and across this state can stand with Deb tonight and say ‘Deb, we’re proud of the campaign you ran.’”
Immediately after Fischer won the Republican primary and the opportunity to face Kerrey in the general election, Rasmussen Reports had Fischer ahead by 18 points. But newer polls by the Omaha World Herald and local TV channel KHAS in Kearney days before the election put the race within three to five points, and within the margin of error.
“She carried herself with such dignity,” former governor of Nebraska Kay Orr said. “She made us very, very proud because she taught the people of this state that you can win by taking the high road.”
And those were the ideas that filled Fischer’s victory speech. Fischer told a packed room of enthusiastic voters that the prosperity of the nation must be based on principles. She called those principles the principles that are held by all Nebraskans – liberty, freedom and justice. Fischer also highlighted personal responsibility, hard work, community and a renewed respect for the life for all Americans.
“The dignity of that young mother in Grand Island, working to raise to her family while her husband is off fighting for us,” Fischer said. “The dignity of grandparents in McCook, who have settled down and invested in their community.
“The dignity of the entrepreneur in Omaha, using his or her unique gifts, hard work and willingness to take risks in creating new jobs for all Nebraskans. The dignity of that beginning farmer in Aurora, bringing new life from the land.”
Fischer said her belief in those first principles rise from the recognition that we’re all in this together as Nebraskans and Americans.
“Nebraska is truly a special place, and Nebraskans are truly a special people,” Fischer said. “We expect our local officials that are elected to higher public office to share the same experiences that we share.
“We expect our elected officials to listen and to vote for us in Washington the way they talk to us at home. We expect our elected officials to be one of us. I stand with you here tonight and I will stand for you and fight for you in Washington.”
Along the way to victory, Fischer defied the odds at every turn. Few, if any, gave her a chance when Fischer announced her campaign more than a year ago.
She began as a relative unknown next to Nebraska Attorney General John Bruning and State Treasurer Don Stenberg. When Public Policy Polling released its numbers in March, Fischer was a distant third, polling at just 12 percent.
At the time, 60 percent of Nebraskans said they didn’t know enough about Fischer to form an opinion on her campaign. The Republican establishment in Nebraska spent almost $3 million in favor of Bruning, and Stenberg received nearly the same amount from the conservative groups in Washington, D.C.
But Fischer jumped past Stenberg into second place, and an endorsement by Republican favorite Sarah Palin followed. Then the money came.
The weekend before the May primary, Ending Spending Action Fund pumped $200,000 into ad buys in favor of Fischer. When primary election night came Fischer was announced as the winner with 41 percent to Bruning’s 36 percent and Stenberg’s 19.
Now, heading to Washington, Fischer said she and others who will be in Washington have their work cut out for them.
“These are serious times,” Fischer said. “We can and we must tackle the serious issues before us. Americans are exceptional people. We have the talents, the resources and the knowledge to deal with these serious issues that are before us. We’ve faced tough challenges before and we’ve conquered them. We’ll do it again.“