A prominent organization of the fiscally conservative Tea Party on Wednesday made its first endorsement in the 2012 campaign, backing Nebraska Republican Attorney General Jon Bruning for Senate.
The Tea Party Express is a national group within the loosely organized network, which pushes for limited government and reduced federal spending and demonstrated political muscle in the 2010 state and national elections.
The group has said ousting Nebraska's incumbent Democratic Senator Ben Nelson is a top priority in 2012, calling it a critical first step for taking the Senate for conservatives.
"Jon Bruning is a true conservative who will fight to uphold the Tea Party core values of fiscal responsibility, and finally give Nebraskans the quality of representation they deserve," Tea Party Express chair Amy Kremer said in a statement.
Some Nebraska Tea Party activists, however, said it was premature to back a specific candidate among Republican contenders, one of whom is State Treasurer Don Stenberg.
Nelson served as a popular two-term governor and would be seeking a third Senate term if he runs for re-election. He is seen as the most conservative Senate Democrat.
Despite conservative leanings and Republican votes when it comes to presidential contests, Nebraskans have often elected Democrats as governors or senators.
During the Bush administration, Nelson opposed legislation that would have provided illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. He also backed Bush tax cuts that were opposed by most democrats.
But Nelson is seen as vulnerable because he provided a key vote in favor of President Barack Obama's healthcare bill after Democrats gave him a number of concessions.
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