The power of rural Nebraska was on full display Tuesday in Republican Deb Fischer's walk-away win for the U.S. Senate.
In rural county after rural county, Fischer walked away with 65 percent or more of the vote. She won 19 counties with 80 percent or more.
In all, Fischer won 88 of the state's 93 counties.
Fischer, a longtime Valentine rancher, trounced Democrat Bob Kerrey by 16 percentage points.
Fischer is the first rural Nebraskan to win a Senate seat in decades. For more than three decades, every U.S. senator from Nebraska lived in Omaha or Lincoln — the state's two largest cities — when they were elected.
The last rural Nebraska U.S. senator was the late Carl Curtis, a Minden lawyer who retired in 1978.
Kerrey won only five counties, including the two most populous: Lancaster and Douglas. But his margins were too small to offset Fischer's rural advantage.
Kerrey won Lancaster by 7 percentage points and Douglas by 2.3 percentage points, beating Fischer by a combined 13,585 votes.
By comparison, Fischer beat Kerrey by more than 45 percentage points in Nebraska's 50 counties with the fewest registered voters. In those counties, Fischer piled up a lead of 34,530 votes.
She also won almost everywhere else, including suburban Sarpy County and the state's other large cities, such as Norfolk, Kearney and Grand Island.
Of course, Fischer's strength in rural areas shouldn't have been surprising. Those 50 smallest counties tilt overwhelmingly toward the GOP, with Republicans accounting for 61 percent of registered voters. Just 26 percent are Democrats.
Kerrey ran slightly ahead of Democratic President Barack Obama's vote totals across the state, including both urban and rural areas. But his appeal to independents and Republicans fell far short of what he needed.
Besides Douglas and Lancaster, Kerrey won only the Democratic stronghold of Saline County and Thurston and Dakota Counties.
Fischer was one of the state's first U.S. Senate candidates in a long time not to aggressively woo or bank on financial support from Omaha. In Nebraska politics, there is an axiom that the votes may be out in greater Nebraska, but the campaign cash is in the state's two largest cities.
When Fischer jumped into the race, she was running against two Republicans with strong ties and connections to the Omaha business community. Attorney Gen. Jon Bruning had already won the backing of some of the state's biggest businesspeople.
From the start of the general election campaign, Fischer's strategy was to win big in central and western Nebraska, while tamping down Kerrey's margin of victory in Omaha and Lincoln.
She did that decisively Tuesday, including in her home county, Cherry. She won there with nearly 78 percent of the vote, despite having been labeled a “bad neighbor” by Kerrey over a lawsuit she filed against an elderly couple. In one Kerrey ad, a Valentine resident alleged that some people in her hometown were “scared to cross the Fischers.”
Fischer's biggest win came in one of the state's least populated counties — Arthur.
Only 264 voters call the county home. It is a county where cattle famously outnumber people.
She won 87 percent of the vote.
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