LINCOLN — With a forklift beeping in the background, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday endorsed Republican Deb Fischer in her race for U.S. Senate.
Fischer, a state senator from Valentine, is one of several GOP candidates being backed by the conservative business group.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent $7 million to assist Republican candidates over the past two years compared with $346,000 on behalf of Democrats, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsible Politics.
The endorsement comes five months after the U.S. Chamber endorsed one of Fischer's rivals for the GOP nomination, Attorney General Jon Bruning.
At Monday's press conference, Lincoln business owner Bob Milligan said that Fischer's pro-business, less-regulation record as a Nebraska state senator led to the endorsement.
“She has the desire, she has the passion and she has the ability to get things done,” Milligan said.
The endorsement, which is decided by a national committee, was announced in the warehouse of Milligan's business, Nature's Variety, a gourmet pet food company in northeast Lincoln, following a similar announcement in Omaha earlier Monday. Milligan is a member of the U.S. chamber's board of directors and a former chairman of that board.
A spokesman for Bob Kerrey said that Kerrey, part-owner of Grandmother's restaurants, is the only candidate in the Senate race with “long-established businesses in Nebraska.”
“He knows what it is like to make payroll and balance budgets, and he understands how his fellow small business owners are affected by too much government regulation,” spokesman Chris Triebsch said.
Doug Loon, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce representative, said his organization gave Kerrey — a former U.S. senator and Nebraska governor — a 42 percent rating in Congress for his support of business, which is too low to warrant an endorsement. Loon did note that retiring U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., has won the group's endorsement in the past.
Though the U.S. chamber has not endorsed any Democratic senatorial candidates in 2012, it has endorsed two House Democrats, according to chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff.
Neither she nor Loon would comment on whether the U.S. chamber plans a media blitz against Kerrey. About 85 percent of the organization's spending is on ads in opposition to candidates, according to the Center for Responsible Politics.
While the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry does not endorse in federal election races, the group's president, Barry Kennedy, spoke in support of Fischer at the Lincoln event.
Kennedy said he felt comfortable speaking for Fischer because the two national organizations affiliated with the state chamber, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, both support her.
Before he joined the chamber, Kennedy worked on the campaigns of Republicans Kay Orr (governor in 1986) and Nancy Hoch (U.S. Senate in 1984).
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