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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LINCOLN –– Before her come-from-behind victory in last week's primary, Republican U.S. Senate nominee Deb Fischer was not widely known, even in her home state.
She's considered an influential, behind-the-scenes negotiator in the Nebraska Legislature, but her husband says the 61-year-old Cherry County rancher also is adept at making pies.
Here are some things you might want to know about the surprise nominee who faces Democrat Bob Kerrey — from those who know her best.
Family and personal life
» When she was a girl, says her mother, Florence Strobel, Fischer wanted — and got — a football helmet and shoulder pads so she could compete with her two older brothers.
» Her dad, the late Jerry Strobel, was a World War II veteran and a 45-year civil servant in the Nebraska Department of Roads. He spent many years as deputy state engineer for the Roads Department. It wasn't until Kay Orr became governor in 1986 — when he was past retirement age — that he agreed to head the department. Before then, he declined the political appointment.
» Orr, the first Republican woman elected governor in the United States, later became Fischer's mentor in the U.S. Senate race.
» Fischer's mom was a longtime elementary teacher in the Lincoln Public Schools. The 88-year-old was a critical volunteer for her daughter's campaign, making hundreds of phone calls on her behalf.
» After graduating from Lincoln Southeast High School, Deb Strobel enrolled at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. There she met Bruce Fischer, a rancher's son from Valentine. After the couple married in 1972, she quit school to move to the Sand Hills. Her parents' reaction? “He seems like a nice kid. But oh my gosh — she's going out there?” The city girl quickly adapted to life on Sunny Slope Ranch.
» “She's infamous for her pie-making,” said her husband. “She doesn't do it very often, but it's a darn-sure treat when she does. I like her peach pie, but she also makes a rhubarb pie that's real good. It's her crust that's the best.”
» As her three sons — Adam, born in 1974; Morgan, 1977; and Luke, 1982 — grew older, Deb Fischer became more involved in community service. After her mother retired from teaching in 1987, Fischer returned to Lincoln to finish her college degree. She traded places with her mother, with Florence moving in with Bruce and the boys at the ranch and Fischer moving in with her father in Lincoln. She earned her bachelor's degree in education in 1988.
» Her first public service concentrated on education and agriculture groups. She served on the school board of a country school and later was elected to the Valentine High School board. She became state president of the Nebraska Association of School Boards, was appointed by then-Gov. Ben Nelson to the School Finance Review Committee and served on the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education, the state's oversight agency for higher education institutions. Her election to the Legislature in 2004 marked her “first paying job” in public service. She beat out six other primary candidates in District 43.
» In 2006, she became one of six first-term lawmakers to win committee chairmanships after term limits ousted a significant number of the Legislature's veteran leaders. She took on the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, which handles highly technical, heavily lobbied legislation affecting some of the most lucrative industries in the state — including highway construction, where her father spent his career.
» Fischer won passage of a measure in 2011 that would earmark roughly $70 million per year in existing sales taxes for highway construction. It's often cited as her most significant legislative achievement. She also had to overcome the public misgivings of Gov. Dave Heineman.
» During the primary campaign, opponent Jon Bruning criticized Fischer for supporting tax increases to benefit highway construction and for opposing a proposed constitutional limit on state spending. She defended her record by noting that her roads funding proposals did not increase existing tax rates or were offset by reductions elsewhere. She also said a majority of lawmakers opposed the proposed spending lid because it would have forced an increase in local property taxes.
» She riled some people in her legislative district by her support of the Keystone XL pipeline.
» Fischer gained budget-cutting experience during her tenure, which coincided with the 2008 recession. Facing nearly a projected $1 billion shortfall in 2011, lawmakers identified $400 million in budget cuts during a program-by-program review of agencies under their jurisdiction. She also helped pass a $425 million tax cut measure in 2007. Fischer cites those experiences when she pledges to cut government spending, balance the federal budget and reduce the federal debt.
» Colleagues describe her as a tough and effective lawmaker, known more for behind-the-scenes negotiation and coalition building than for speechmaking on the legislative floor. Aide Dusty Vaughan says his boss has an “impeccable sense of timing” and a gut feeling that tells her when it's time to act. “When the odds looked long, a lot of people asked me if I honestly believed she had a chance to win the Senate seat,” Vaughan recalled. “I would usually tell them I learned long ago not to doubt Senator Fischer when she wants to get something done. So far, so good.”
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Deb Fischer's acceptance speech
Deb Fischer speaks during Wednesday-morning GOP news conference.