Deb Fischer, Bruning

State Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine speaks with Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning behind her during a post-primary GOP unity event on Wednesday, May 16, 2012, at the state Republican Party headquarters in Lincoln. Fischer defeated Bruning to claim the GOP nomination for Nebraska's open U.S. Senate seat. (ROBERT BECKER/Lincoln Journal Star)

ROBERT BECKER/Lincoln Journal Star

Hours after her upset victory in Nebraska's Republican Senate race, GOP nominee Deb Fischer said she'll draw a sharp contrast with Bob Kerrey over issues that run the gamut from taxes to same-sex marriage.

Kerrey, who sailed to the Democratic nomination, said he wants to be a bipartisan bridge in the Senate, accommodating two-way traffic leading to resolution of fundamental problems such as debt reduction that now are held hostage by partisan gridlock.

"I, too, support lowering taxes and reducing regulations," Kerrey said Wednesday afternoon at a news conference in a hangar at Duncan Aviation during a stopover on a two-day statewide tour into 10 communities. "But I don't believe you can balance the budget only with spending cuts.

"Additional revenue needs to be part of the solution," Kerrey said, and it can be provided while lowering taxes for most Americans.

Fischer said reductions in taxes and federal regulations help build businesses, "and that's how you create jobs."

Speaking at a unity rally Wednesday morning at Republican state headquarters in Lincoln with vanquished opponents Attorney General Jon Bruning and State Treasurer Don Stenberg at her side, Fischer said she is prepared to wage a tough campaign.

"We're going to win back the U.S. Senate," she said, "and Nebraska is going to be a big part of it."

Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson pointed to a flood of outside super PAC TV advertising that poured into the Republican primary contest and said, "There's no question that special interest money won that election."

Fischer had the lowest name recognition among the three leading Republican candidates, he said, as well as the smallest amount of campaign money. And, Nelson said, she campaigned the least because she was tied down in Lincoln for more than three months during the 2012 legislative session.

"That's not a strategy that works," he said during a telephone conference call from Washington.

Nelson said that adds credence to his argument that outside money and TV advertising won the election with a message of "anybody but Bruning."

Fischer and Kerrey are competing for the Senate seat that will be vacated by Nelson at the end of the year.

The dimensions of Fischer's come-from-behind election victory were startling: She won 76 of 93 counties and tied Bruning in another while compiling a statewide victory margin of 10,000 votes.

The tally for the trio: Fischer, 79,039 votes; Bruning, 69,035; Stenberg, 36,054.

Fischer won Lincoln, Hastings, Kearney, Fremont, Grand Island, Norfolk and Columbus.

Bruning won Omaha, Bellevue, North Platte and Scottsbluff.

Gov. Dave Heineman, who did not take sides in the Republican primary battle, described Fischer as a "strong, tough and effective" legislator in introducing her at the GOP rally.

Fischer said she will contest Kerrey on a number of issues by supporting pro-life legislation, opposing cap-and-trade energy policies and supporting repeal of the national health care reform law.

As a member of Nebraska's nonpartisan Legislature, she said, she has proved she can work with colleagues in both parties.

Kerrey said repeal of the health care law would "not be good morally or economically" and would harm many Nebraskans. 

Congress needs to be transformed into a nonpartisan legislative body with members of both houses subjected to term limits, the former two-term senator said. 

"The political parties shouldn't control the Congress, and they do," Kerrey said, and that has led to partisan gridlock that is harmful to the nation. "Both parties are hunkered down in their caucuses now."

Special interests have an agenda of their own, he said, and it has been evident in this year's TV ads in Nebraska's Senate campaign.

The Koch Brothers, who own Koch Industries, are prepared to spend whatever they have to to defeat him through their Americans for Prosperity super PAC, Kerrey said. 

"I think the Koch brothers are concerned about their own prosperity. And they already look relatively prosperous to me."

Fischer votes by county

Here's a county-by-county look at how Deb Fischer fared in Nebraska's GOP Senate primary. Darker red shades indicate a higher percentage of votes for Fischer.

Reach Don Walton at 402-473-7248 or at dwalton@journalstar.com.

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Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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