In an absolutely stunning development, little known state legislator, Deb Fischer, badly beat two GOP rivals in Nebraska’s primary yesterday. She will face Democrat Bob Kerrey in the general with a Senate seat up for grabs. A preliminary poll released by Democrats showed Fischer up by double digits over Kerrey. But that’s a story for later.
In addition to Fischer, the Nebraska GOP primary included the state’s attorney general and establishment-backed Jon Bruning and conservative state treasurer, Don Stenberg, supported by Club for Growth and the Senate Conservative Fund. It is estimated that Stenberg and his supporters spent $1.3 million while Bruning and pals coughed up $1.2 million on the campaign. Amazingly, Fischer’s costs have been estimated at a mere $400,000. As a result, Fischer was left for dead weeks ago. How did Fischer mount a comeback, take a majority of the vote and leave the GOP-establishment scratching their heads?
Well, both Bruning and Stenberg have some baggage to be sure, while Fischer’s personal demon — voting for a gasoline tax hike — was minimized by an otherwise consistently strong state voting record. Bruning and Stenberg, having notable financial support, viewed one another as the true adversary and squared off against each other, ignoring Fischer. The mutual punishment they dished out damaged each of their campaigns while Fischer was left, for the most part, unscathed.
And, of course, there was Palin power.
While GOP big-shots like Jim DeMint, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul endorsed either Stenberg or Bruning as candidates, Sarah Palin was the only “national name” to endorse Fischer. A note of endorsement sent from Palin to Fischer on May 8th was released to the media the following day. In effect, Fischer went from nobody to the GOP primary winner in a week. This is the second time this month Palin has punished the GOP establishment — she endorsed conservative Richard Mourdock before his win over moderate Richard Lugar.
The current political power of Palin is astonishing. Missing some races early during 2010, Palin was mocked and ridiculed by both the GOP establishment and Democrats. But there can be no denying that her track record of endorsements – Rand Paul, Nikki Haley, Richard Mourdock earlier this month, now Fischer to name a few – has staggered the GOP-establishment like a crisp shot to the chin.
Ultimately, however, the high stakes battle for the right to define the future of the GOP is still unresolved. Karl Rove is a seasoned veteran and he and his beltway boys will not go down easily. Palin, to her credit, has vastly improved her politics and has avoided blunders that the establishment can pounce on to discredit her. She’s also on a hot streak.
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