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Updated: 9:14 a.m.
The Tea Party Express announced Wednesday morning that it is backing Attorney General Jon Bruning in the GOP primary for the candidates aiming to unseat Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), marking the group’s first endorsement of the 2012 cycle.
"We at the Tea Party Express have been watching and waiting for the right candidate to send Ben Nelson home to retirement,” Amy Kremer, chairwoman of the Tea Party Express, said in a statement. “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.”
Bruning is one of two statewide elected Republicans who have filed to run against Nelson, and polls show the attorney general has a clear edge over state Treasurer Don Stenberg in the GOP primary.
The conservative political action committee will join Bruning to announce its endorsement at a morning press conference at the National Press Club.
The Tea Party Express endorsed several conservative candidates early in primaries last cycle, pumping money into their races and propelling them to win the nomination in their respective contests. However, some of its highest-profile endorsements — such as Nevada Republican Sharron Angle, Delaware Republican Christine O'Donnell and Alaska Republican Joe Miller — failed to win the general election.
By selecting Bruning as its first endorsement of the cycle, the group is showing that it could be opting to support more mainstream GOP candidates this cycle.
Tea Party Express has been targeting Nelson, who lags in the polls against his opponents, calling his defeat “a critical first step in taking back the U.S. Senate for conservatives.”
Nelson campaign manager Paul Johnson issued a statement scoffing that Bruning and the group "deserve each other."
"This endorsement makes perfect sense. Both the Tea Party Express and Mr. Bruning want to cut Medicare, cut Social Security and return to the days when insurance companies could deny health coverage to children with preexisting conditions," Johnson said. "Together, the Tea Party Express and Mr. Bruning would put seniors and our children at risk at a time when they can least afford it."
Roll Call Politics rates the Nebraska Senate race a Tossup.