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Nebraska Republicans choose insurgent candidate in primary

WASHINGTON -- An insurgent Republican lawmaker upset the party establishment's choice in a Republican primary Tuesday and will face a former Democratic senator in one of the year's most contested Senate races.

In the Republican Senate primary, state Sen. Deb Fischer, a rancher, rode a wave of discontent with the party establishment to beat Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, the preferred candidate of Washington, D.C.-based Republicans, and state Treasurer Don Stenberg in a race that drew national attention from outside groups in its final, unpredictable weeks.

With 98 percent of the precincts reporting, Fischer had 41 percent of the vote to Bruning's 36 percent, with Stenberg a distant third at 19 percent.

The outcome underscored years-old divisions within the Republican ranks, and set the stage for a competitive general election race that could determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

Fischer's victory marked another win for the party's anti-establishment movement just a week after tea party-supported state Treasurer Richard Mourdock beat Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar in that state's Republican primary. The tea party advocates limited government, deep cuts in government spending and no tax increases.

Former Sen. Bob Kerrey, who is seeking to reclaim his old seat, easily captured the Democratic nomination.

Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, a two-term moderate, is retiring and both parties are eyeing his seat. Democrats want to keep it to maintain their narrow Senate majority, while Republicans see an opportunity to pick up a seat in their drive to win back control of the Senate.

Democrats control the Senate 51-47, plus two independents who caucus with the majority. But the outcome in November of several competitive Senate races could result in a power shift.

Elsewhere, Oregon helped Mitt Romney inch closer to his all-but-certain presidential nomination. He was expected to pick up most — if not all — of Oregon's 25 delegates. Nebraska Republicans picked Romney although no delegates would be allotted in a vote that amounts to a beauty contest. The state's 32 delegates to the Republican National Convention later this year will be determined at the state convention on July 14.

Idaho voters also were picking nominees for state and congressional offices.

Romney was 171 delegates short of the 1,144 needed for the nomination and was on pace to get them before the month ended. He spent his day in Iowa, a competitive general election battleground state, criticizing President Barack Obama on voters' top concern, the economy.

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