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Sen. Deb Fischer scored an upset in the Republican primary election in 2012, then soared to victory against Democratic nominee Bob Kerrey to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Now she's been a U.S. senator for nearly six years, has established name recognition and built a conservative voting record, and is seeking re-election in what recently has been a ruby-red Republican state.  

Fischer has broken new ground, emerging as the first woman to be elected to a full six-year Senate term in Nebraska.

And now voters will be choosing between two women to fill the seat for the next six years. Lincoln City Councilwoman Jane Raybould is the senator's Democratic opponent and is waging a robust campaign. 

Fischer, a Sandhills rancher who grew up in Lincoln, served eight years in the nonpartisan Legislature before entering the 2012 Senate race after she was publicly prompted by former Gov. Kay Orr.

Fischer subsequently won the Republican nomination with a closing dash to the wire, sweeping past two established and far better-known opponents, Attorney General Jon Bruning and State Treasurer Don Stenberg.

When she first sought a seat in the Legislature in 2004, Fischer ran behind in the primary election before ultimately prevailing by a scant 128 votes in November.

Her electoral fortunes have improved dramatically since then.

Fischer won 88 of 93 counties, sweeping the state west of Lincoln in her 2012 Senate showdown with Kerrey, the former Democratic governor and former U.S. senator.

Fischer's legislative record in Lincoln was highlighted by enactment of a 2011 bill that diverts revenue raised by one-quarter cent of the state's sales tax to highway construction, providing a new and additional source of funding for roads.    

The senator's father, Jerry Strobel, had been a former state roads director in Nebraska.

In the Senate, Fischer has continued to focus on infrastructure improvement and is chairman of the surface transportation subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Fischer is also a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, but her highest-profile assignment is membership on the Senate Armed Services Committee, where she is chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the highest-visibility military components such as nuclear weapons and ballistic missile defense.

It all adds up to "a broad portfolio of achievements," Fischer says, when you also factor in legislative accomplishments and success in helping secure the future of Offutt Air Force Base and its 55th Wing with a new runway project while pushing ahead with new veterans medical facilities in both Omaha and Lincoln.

Her position on the Armed Services Committee is vital to Nebraska's interests, Fischer said, and so is her membership on the Agriculture Committee, particularly during a year when the new farm bill is being constructed.

Her legislative successes include work to reduce government regulations, increase rural access to broadband service and enact a paid family leave plan as part of tax reform, Fischer said.

And now she's at work on an attempt to "ease some of the costs" that Omaha faces in addressing a billion-dollar sewer separation mandate, the senator said.

"I'm proud of the work we have done together to make life easier for Nebraska families and to keep our country safe," she said. 

Asked what Nebraskans tell her about President Donald Trump, Fischer said; "I would say President Trump is very, very popular in Nebraska and does enjoy good support." 

Nebraskans with whom she has spoken were strongly in support of Senate confirmation of Trump's nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, Fischer said. 

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Fischer said she's traveled 140,000 miles during the past six years, showing up at town hall and community events and on main streets, crisscrossing the state and returning to Nebraska virtually every weekend the Senate is in session.

"The people of Nebraska know me," she said.

In the Senate, the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona occasionally used to address her as "The Hammer," a senator to be reckoned with. 

They served together on the Armed Services Committee and McCain phoned Fischer from Arizona during the final stages of his battle with brain cancer; it's a conversation she recorded and saved on her phone.

Fischer is a member of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's leadership team and appears ready to seek election as vice chair of the Senate GOP Conference, a step up the party ladder.     

All Fischer will say at this point is that "I've been approached by a number of people" who would like to see her do that.

Fischer said her re-election fits the moment with a Republican in the White House. 

"I served in the minority for two years," she said, and there was virtually no contact with President Barack Obama or relationships with officials in his administration.

"Now, I am able to talk to the president on the phone," Fischer said, as well as attend meetings at the White House, acquire information from the president's staff and be in contact with cabinet officers.

"It is extremely important to have a Republican senator when there's a Republican in the White House," Fischer said. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

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

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