Video: Click here for clips of Deb Fischer's election night acceptance speech and her speaking during Wednesday's GOP news conference.
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If Nebraskans think they're going to get a brief break from politics and political ads with the end of the Republican Senate primary and Deb Fischer's stunning victory, think again.
That was only the beginning.
The race between Fischer and Democrat Bob Kerrey is one of about 10 in the nation that will help decide whether Republicans or Democrats control the U.S. Senate in 2013.
Republicans need to win four Senate seats they don't now hold to take control, and Nebraska is considered one of their likeliest places to flip. The state is a GOP stronghold where 48 percent of registered voters are Republicans, compared with 32 percent who are Democrats and 19 percent who are independents.
“When you get right down to it, Republicans have to make sure they turn Nebraska and North Dakota. Those are the two easiest for them to turn,” said Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia.
Like Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, who announced in December that he would not seek re-election, North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad is retiring in a GOP-leaning state.
Money is expected to pour into both states from all sides — much of it from super PACs and other third-party groups. Total spending on the Nebraska race could exceed $40 million, setting a record, said Paul Johnson, Kerrey's campaign manager.
The previous record was the $22 million spent in 2006, when Nelson defeated Republican Omaha businessman Pete Ricketts.
“Money is going to flow like a river into all of the (targeted) states,” Nelson told The World-Herald.
Fischer was crowned the Republican nominee Tuesday after an against-the-odds surge over the final weeks of the campaign. She had trailed in a distant third place for most of the campaign before gathering momentum and toppling front-runner Jon Bruning, the state attorney general, by 5 percentage points.
Now running her first statewide race, she faces Kerrey in a contest with national implications.
If Republicans pick up four Senate seats, they would likely control both houses of Congress. Few political observers give Democrats much of a chance of winning back the U.S. House.
Republicans could again control the agenda on Capitol Hill and have considerable sway over budget debates. With Democrats in control of the Senate, House Republicans have seen numerous pieces of legislation blocked.
Many of the dollars expected to roll into Nebraska will come from super PACs and other third-party groups that now have the power to spend unlimited amounts of money, thanks to a 2010 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court known as Citizens United.
Super PAC dollars played a significant role in Tuesday's Republican primary. The Ending Spending Action Fund, bankrolled by former Omaha businessman Joe Ricketts, was a key factor in Fischer's success. The super PAC spent $250,000 in the final days of the campaign on television advertisements blasting Bruning on ethical grounds and others boosting Fischer.
Two other super PACs wasted little time after the election, going up on the air with general election ads last week. Both Americans for Prosperity, funded by conservative billionaires David and Charles Koch, and American Crossroads, a group founded by GOP political operative Karl Rove, were in Nebraska with negative ads against Kerrey.
More will likely follow suit, as both national parties get into the fray.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is expected to spend considerable dollars in Nebraska, promoting Kerrey and hammering Fischer.
“Everybody will play there because it's one of the targeted seats,” Sabato said.
One thing that could dampen moneyed outside interest in the race is if Kerrey has trouble picking up steam and political observers begin to see Fischer as a prohibitive favorite.
Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report said it remains to be seen how much attention Nebraska will receive. She's not sure Kerrey knows what to do with Fischer as an opponent — and that her surprising victory did nothing to change Duffy's rating of the race as “likely Republican.”
“It's a lot harder to run against her,” Duffy said.
Duffy points out that both national parties will have to prioritize their efforts based on where they're most likely to win.
Nebraska's race will be weighed against contests in North Dakota, Montana and Indiana. Both Democrats and Republicans will be tempted to focus on Nebraska because of Kerrey's profile in the state as a former senator, governor and presidential candidate, she said.
“The question is: Are they going to have the resources, given what they need to do in other states?” Duffy said.
World-Herald staff writer Joseph Morton contributed to this report.
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Deb Fischer's acceptance speech
Deb Fischer speaks during Wednesday-morning GOP news conference.