(CBS News) Third party groups have been heavily backing a conservative candidate in Nebraska's Republican Senate primary -- and they may manage to take down the establishment pick today. However, their candidate could lose, too.
For some time, the GOP Senate primary looked like a fight between Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, the establishment favorite, and State Treasurer Don Stenberg. In recent days, however, a third candidate -- State Sen. Deb Fischer -- has gained traction.
It appears as if the expensive mud-slinging between Bruning and Stenberg could have helped Fischer. And in the final days of the primary campaign, Fischer has secured her own wealthy backer, as well as the support of big names like Sarah Palin.
Heading into today's primary, the results look impossible to predict. A poll conducted Sunday -- commissioned by Joe Ricketts, a wealthy businessman backing Fischer -- shows Bruning leading with 38 percent and Fischer close behind with 35 percent. Stenberg takes 16 percent in the poll, and 8 percent remain undecided.
The poll results should be taken with a grain of salt since its backer has a vested interest in the results. Moreover, the results of a low-turnout race like a Senate primary can be hard to predict.
Fischer's relatively low profile isn't surprising, given the level of spending in the race on behalf of her opponents.
Outside groups have spent
Most of the outside spending has come from South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund and from the anti-tax group Club for Growth. Both of those groups are backing Stenberg, though the Club for Growth has put their emphasis on attacking Bruning.
Both the Bruning and Stenberg campaigns raised most of their first quarter funds from outside of Nebraska, while 90 percent of Fischer's first quarter fundraising came from in-state, the Omaha World-Herald reports.
The dynamics of the race began to change, however, when two polls last week showed Fischer gaining traction. Then on Saturday, Ricketts, the owner of the Chicago Cubs and founder of TD Ameritrade, poured $200,000 into the race on Fischer's behalf. He paid for an ad questioning Bruning's character, as well as an ad praising Fischer.
On Monday evening, Palin posted a Facebook note with a note that she and her husband Todd Palin wrote to Fischer. "Winning over voters through personal interactions is the way to go. People are tired of outside interests spending millions of dollars in political attack ads. We're glad to see your grassroots efforts paying off!" the letter said. Todd Palin also recorded a robocall for Fischer.
The Palins aren't the only nationally-recognized names to get involved in the race this week. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Sen. Rick Santorum both threw their weight behind Bruning, the Hill notes. Huckabee recorded a robocall for Bruning, calling him "a proven conservative who has led the Constitutional challenge to Obamacare."