As the late trends suggested, state senator Deb Fishcher emerged from the back of a three-candidate pack and edged attorney general Jon Bruning for the GOP Senate nomination in Nebraska, leaving the darling of national right-wing groups, state treasurer Don Stenberg, in the dust at a distant third.

Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling, which did a last-minute poll illustrating Fischer’s surge into the lead, offered this analysis yesterday:

This race reminds me a lot of the 2009 Democratic race for Governor of Virginia where front runners Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran beat each other up, plunged their favorability numbers, and allowed Creigh Deeds to come out looking like a saint in comparison. Deeds just kept on picking up momentum and ended up winning by an even larger margin than expected.

Given Bruning’s huge early lead and the aggressive pounding he took from the Club for Growth and Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservative Fund (who both backed Stenberg), I’d say the contest was more like one of those classic murder-suicide cases, such as the 1998 California Democratic governor’s race, where Al Checchi did nothing but run negative ads on Jane Harman, making lightly-regarded Gray Davis the nominee. It’s a reminder that negative campaigning is risky when multiple candidates are in a race but not all are targets.

In case anyone’s looking at Fischer and seeing Sharron Angle or Christine O’Donnell or a Richard Mourdock–you know, a Tea Party-fed upset producing a wacko nominee who may be vulnerable in the general election–Jensen’s analysis makes it clear that ideology is not what drove her primary campaign. The PPP poll actually showed Bruning enjoying his highest favorability numbers among “very conservative” voters, while Fischer was most popular among moderates. If she’s any crazier than all the other Republican candidates running around calling themselves “true conservatives” and attacking each other for even thinking about cooperating with Democrats, it’s not evident just yet. But Bob Kerrey’s campaign needs to get in gear and define her for a general electorate that doesn’t know her that well.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.