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LINCOLN -- Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and Democratic challenger Bob Krist sailed through their primary election tests Tuesday night, en route to a general election showdown that is likely to be overflowing with division over state priorities and Ricketts' first-term record.

Bob Krist, Neb. legislator


Meanwhile, Democratic Senate candidate Jane Raybould claimed her party's nomination and an opportunity to go head-to-head with Republican Sen. Deb Fischer in a clash that could reach its conclusion at a time when Washington may be in the grip of political turmoil.

Jane Raybould


Those two battles for Nebraska's premier statewide offices will play out in an incendiary year when the political landscape is dominated by the shadow of President Donald Trump and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's ever-widening investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 

The president tweeted his support for Fischer on election morning: "Nebraska — make sure you get out to the polls and VOTE for Deb Fischer today!"

Now comes the hard part for the Democratic nominees.

Ricketts and Fischer enjoy the advantages of incumbency and their Republican identification in a state that has delivered GOP knockout victories in major statewide races for the past decade.  

They also will have far more campaign resources to deliver their message.

"Any Democrat running statewide faces a major uphill battle," University of Nebraska at Omaha political science professor Paul Landow says.

Landow, deeply immersed inside Nebraska politics for several decades before he joined the UNO faculty in 2009, was chief of staff to former Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey and before that served as former Democratic Rep. Peter Hoagland's chief of staff. 

"This is a conservative state and a Republican state and it votes that way," he said in looking ahead. "I think Republican dominance is here to stay for the foreseeable future."

The Republican margin in the four most recent senatorial and gubernatorial contests has ranged from 97,000 votes to 233,000 votes.

Both Ricketts and Fischer enter this year's general election cycle with seven-figure war chests that can dominate 30-second TV advertising. Ricketts has nearly $1.3 million in cash on hand and Fischer has $2.5 million available.

Krist and Raybould are poised to wage aggressive campaigns.

In remarks at a victory celebration in Omaha, Krist said the governor "has had four years to restore fairness to our property tax system" and his inability to do so represents "a failure of leadership."

Krist said he would be "a governor who's unafraid to wipe the slate clean and build a tax system that is fair to hard-working Nebraskans."

The new Democratic nominee also centered on a number of other issues, including the state's prison system, which he described as "a mess."

Krist, a 21-year Air Force veteran, piloted an aircraft to Sioux Gateway Airport for a campaign stop Wednesday morning. He also flew from Omaha to Scottsbluff, with a stop at Grand Island. Accompanied by his running mate, state Sen. Lynne Walz, it was part of a three-day, post-primary campaign tour that will take him to 10 communities across the state. The highlight of the tour will be a town-hall style meeting on property tax reform at Bridgeport, where the campaign says property taxes have skyrocketed more than 140 percent since 2007.  

Ricketts, who was elected governor in 2014, has built a conservative fiscal record during his first term. 

The governor points to a sharp reduction in the growth of state spending, along with success in ruling out any tax increases while also instituting a range of private sector-oriented government reform.

Meanwhile, Ricketts has focused on a pledge to grow the state with economic development and job creation driving that train. 

Krist's journey to the Democratic nomination followed a winding path.

A Republican who has voted independently in the Legislature, Krist initially planned to challenge Ricketts as an independent nonpartisan candidate in the general election, skipping the primary.

Facing statutory challenges, he then considered formation of a new party to serve as a vehicle for his candidacy, but ultimately chose to change political parties and enter the Democratic primary election.

The wild-card factor hanging over the gubernatorial contest may be the growing and widespread demand, especially in rural Nebraska, for property tax relief.

With the sudden abandonment of a statewide petition drive to place a billion-dollar property tax relief initiative on the November ballot, that issue seeps more deeply into the governor's race now.

Fischer has built a conservative record in the Senate, where she is a member of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's leadership team.  

Recently, Fischer gained a seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, erasing one of the pillars of Raybould's campaign message, which included a pledge to seek a seat for Nebraska at the agriculture table. 

Fischer, a Valentine cattle rancher and former two-term state senator, has focused on national defense issues as chairman of the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces and on highway transportation issues as chairman of the Senate Commerce subcommittee on surface transportation.

Raybould, a member of the Lincoln City Council, jumped into the Senate race last August and formally filed as a candidate in December.

Among her priorities have been support for trade opportunities for Nebraska agriculture that have been endangered, and sometimes reduced, by Trump administration policies, along with pledges to protect Social Security, Medicare and access to affordable health care.

Raybould has also expressed support for protection of so-called Dreamer youths whose continued legal presence in the United States is threatened by Trump's decision to revoke the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive action taken by former President Barack Obama.

"Over the next six months, we're going to show Nebraskans that they have a choice," Raybould said Tuesday night. 

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