Omaha, Nebraska (Reuters) - Rancher and state Senator Deb Fischer overcame two longtime state office holders to win the Nebraska Republican primary for the Senate on Tuesday, the second Republican primary upset in a week after an insurgent ousted longtime Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar.
Powered by some high-profile endorsements in the final two weeks of the Nebraska campaign, Fischer roared from third place to victory over veteran Attorney General Jon Bruning and state Treasurer Don Stenberg.
The outcome was another indication of how volatile the 2012 election year has been, especially in the Republican party, as Tea Party conservatives battle with more traditional Republicans for supremacy.
Fischer, 61, running her first statewide race, will now face Democrat Bob Kerrey, former senator and governor, in a race that Republicans are counting on winning to help them seize majority control of the Senate this November.
“Voters are fed up with what’s happening in Washington. They’re tired of out of control spending. They want to send someone to Washington who’s going to make a change, and not be that typical politician,” Fischer said on Tuesday after the polls had closed.
With nearly all the precincts counted, Fischer had 41 percent of the votes, Bruning 36 percent and Stenberg 19 percent.
Fischer, who owns a ranch with her husband in the remote Sandhills, grabbed attention in the agricultural state with a humorous campaign ad featuring two Angus bulls named “Bruning” and “Stenberg,” and which touted her wish to end “political bull.”
Despite being a relative novice in the race, Fischer has been a state Senator since 2004 and could be a strong candidate in November, said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the Cook Political Report in Washington.
“She’s got a good profile for the state. She does have some experience and I think that she gets some momentum out of the win,” Duffy said, adding that Fischer is likely to beat Kerrey in November.
Bruning, 43, was the acknowledged front-runner since announcing days after his re-election as attorney general in 2010 that he would seek the Senate seat.
But Bruning was battered in the closing weeks of the campaign by attack ads questioning his ethics because he has invested in several private businesses while serving as attorney general. Bruning defended the investments as passive and said he made no management decisions in the companies.
His main challenger during most of the campaign was Stenberg, 64, who was making his fourth try for the Senate seat and had the endorsement of several leading Tea Party supporters including South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint.
The Nebraska race is to replace retiring Senator Ben Nelson, a Democrat.
Nebraska has been trending toward Republicans. Forty-eight percent of Nebraska registered voters are Republicans compared with 38 percent Democrats.
Democrats at first had trouble recruiting a high-profile candidate in the race until Kerrey returned to the state from New York City earlier this year to run. He easily won the Democratic primary on Tuesday.
Kerrey was president of The New School in New York City from 2001 to 2010 after stepping down from the Senate.
Fischer picked up late endorsements from former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, former presidential candidate Herman Cain and Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry.
The Super PAC of Chicago Cubs owner and former Omaha businessman Joe Ricketts paid for an “Anyone but Bruning” television advertising attack and touted Fischer.
The Nebraska upset was the second in a week after Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock defeated longtime Senator Richard Lugar in the Republican primary there.
Editing by Greg McCune and Lisa Shumaker