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Fischer Edges Bruning in 2nd Closest Nebraska GOP US Senate Primary in History

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Only Hugh Butler's 3.3-point victory in 1940 was more narrowly decided than the Cornhusker Republican Senate contest on Tuesday out of 37 contests since 1916

debfischer10.jpgIn yet another example of a growing list of underdog candidates rallying to knock off what at one point seemed to be shoo-in GOP U.S. Senate primary favorites over the last few cycles, Nebraska Republican primary voters backed Deb Fischer over Attorney General Jon Bruning in a six-candidate race on Tuesday.

Fischer, who was endorsed by Sarah Palin in the closing days of the campaign and had inched ahead in the polls, not only upset Bruning, but did so in one of the closest races in state history.

A Smart Politics review of the 37 Republican U.S. Senate primaries in Nebraska since the introduction of direct elections nearly 100 years ago finds that the 5.2-point victory by Deb Fischer on Tuesday was the second narrowest margin in Cornhusker State history.

Fischer won with 41.1 percent of the vote compared to 35.9 percent for Bruning, followed by 18.8 percent for State Treasurer Don Stenberg, 2.8 percent for Pat Flynn, 0.8 percent for Spencer Zimmerman, and 0.7 percent for Sharyn Elander.

Prior to Tuesday, the average margin of victory in GOP U.S. Senate primaries was 45.5 points dating back to the first such contest in 1916.

On only three previous occasions was a GOP U.S. Senate primary decided by single digits:

· In 1916, in the state's first such Senate primary after the introduction of direct elections, John Kennedy edged Chester Aldrich by 7.2 points, 53.6 to 46.4 percent in a two-candidate race.

· In 1940, the closest ever race for a Republican primary took place when Hugh Butler defeated Arthur Weaver by just 3.3 points, 37.2 percent to 33.9 percent in a five-candidate field.

· In 1988, Dave Karnes beat Hal Daub by 9.8 points, 54.8 to 45.0 percent in a two-candidate race.

The six-candidate field Tuesday was not the largest in state history for the GOP - being equaled or eclipsed five other times in Republican U.S. Senate primaries:

In the 1954 special primary election to serve the remainder of Dwight Griswold's seat, 16 Republicans appeared on the ballot with the winner - Hazel Abel - winning with 22.6 percent and no other candidate reaching double digits.

In the 1954 primary for the full term of that same seat, Carl Curtis won a seven-candidate race with 39.4 percent of the vote on the way to his first of four terms.

Six-candidate Republican primaries also took place in 1922 (won by Ralph Howell), 1984 (won by Nancy Hoch), and 2000 (won by Don Stenberg).

Stenberg, the State Treasurer and former Nebraska Attorney General, had vied for the nomination on three previous occasions, losing to Chuck Hagel in a two-candidate race in 1996 with 37.5 percent of the vote, winning with 50.0 percent in a six-candidate field in 2000, and losing to Peter Ricketts in 2006 with 35.8 percent in a two-candidate contest.

A Nebraska Republican U.S. Senate nominee has received a free pass to the general election ballot just six times in state history: Carl Curtis in 1954, 1960, and 1966, Roman Hruska in 1954 (special) and 1958, and Chuck Hagel in 2002.

Fischer will face former two-term Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey, who easily won his party's primary with over 80 percent of the vote.

Nebraska Republican U.S. Senate Primary Winners and Victory Margin, 1916-2012

Year
Winner
%
2nd Place
%
MoV
# Candidates
2012
Deb Fischer
41.1
Jon Bruning
35.9
5.2
6
2008
Mike Johanns
78.0
Pat Flynn
22.0
56.0
2
2006
Peter Ricketts
48.0
Don Stenberg
35.8
12.2
3
2002
Chuck Hagel
100.0
(unopposed)
0.0
100.0
1
2000
Don Stenberg
50.0
Scott Moore
21.8
28.2
6
1996
Chuck Hagel
62.2
Don Stenberg
37.5
24.7
2
1994
Jan Stoney
86.3
Otis Glebe
13.6
72.7
2
1990
Hal Daub
91.3
Otis Glebe
8.4
82.9
2
1988
Dave Karnes
54.8
Hal Daub
45.0
9.8
2
1984
Nancy Hoch
40.5
John DeCamp
16.4
24.1
6
1982
Jim Keck
66.0
Ken Cameron
33.8
32.2
2
1978
Donald Shasteen
78.4
Lenore Etchison
21.5
56.9
2
1976
John McCollister
78.4
Richard Proud
21.6
56.8
2
1972
Carl Curtis
74.0
Ronald Blauvelt
15.8
58.2
4
1970
Roman Hruska
85.5
Otis Glebe
14.3
71.2
2
1966
Carl Curtis
99.8
(unopposed)
0.1
99.8
1
1964
Roman Hruska
99.6
(unopposed)
0.0
99.6
1
1960
Carl Curtis
99.7
(unopposed)
0.0
99.7
1
1958
Roman Hruska
100.0
(unopposed)
0.0
100.0
1
1954
Carl Curtis
39.4
Robert Crosby
26.7
12.7
7
1954 (s)
Roman Hruska
99.8
(unopposed)
0.0
99.8
1
1954 (s)
Hazel Abel
22.6
Richard Dempster
9.7
12.9
16
1952 (s)
Dwight Griswold
81.3
Walter Nielsen
15.9
65.4
3
1952
Hugh Butler
57.8
Val Peterson
42.2
15.6
2
1948
Kenneth Wherry
83.5
Joseph Bovey
16.4
67.1
2
1946
Hugh Butler
63.8
Dwight Griswold
35.1
28.7
3
1942
Kenneth Wherry
74.5
Hugh Ashmore
16.9
57.6
3
1940
Hugh Butler
37.2
Arthur Weaver
33.9
3.3
5
1936
Robert Simmons
71.2
Harry Palmer
19.6
51.6
5
1934 (s)
J.H. Kemp
44.6
Dana Van Dusen
27.9
16.7
4
1934
Robert Simmons
46.3
Kenneth Wherry
24.9
21.4
5
1930
George Norris
57.3
W.M. Stebbins
39.3
18.0
3
1928
Ralph Howell
59.3
O.S. Spillman
40.7
18.6
2
1924
George Norris
60.6
Charles Sloan
25.9
34.7
3
1922
Ralph Howell
34.0
Albert Jeffries
21.9
12.1
6
1918
George Norris
35.9
Charles Sloan
25.8
10.1
5
1916
John Kennedy
53.6
Chester Aldrich
46.4
7.2
2
Table compiled by Smart Politics with official election returns data from the Nebraska State Canvassing Board.

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