Tag Archives: Don Stenberg

Nebraska’s Heineman Won’t Run

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) announced over the holiday weekend that he will not run for his state’s open US Senate seat next year, ending more than 13 weeks of political speculation concerning his decision. Heineman said he believed a campaign would take away from serving his final 18 months as governor but, at least at one point, claimed he was very close to becoming a federal candidate.

Heineman’s decision now opens up what should be a fierce campaign to replace one-term Sen. Mike Johanns (R), a former governor and US Agriculture Secretary, who decided not to seek re-election. All potential candidates had been awaiting Heineman’s decision, because his popularity is such that no person in either party is likely to defeat him.

The Democrats are in the more precarious position because they are now staring at two open statewide races with a depleted political bench. Former two-term senator and governor Bob Kerrey returned to the state last year and went down to an ignominious 58-42 percent defeat at the hands of then state senator Deb Fischer (R). The result left the Democrats in a politically moribund state as Kerrey was always viewed as the party’s best possible standard bearer. For him to lose as badly as he did to a state legislator in what should have been a strong Democratic year, casts major doubt over the party’s 2014 prospects.

That being said, the Democrats will likely concentrate on the open gubernatorial campaign, a position more important to party leaders. Heineman, who will be the longest-serving governor in the state’s history (10 years at the end of his term), is ineligible to seek re-election. At this point, the Democrats’ strongest candidate may be Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler. He will likely run statewide, but probably as a gubernatorial candidate, thus by-passing the Senate contest. Beyond Beutler, their options are few.
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Nebraska Sen. Johanns to Retire

In a surprising announcement, first-term Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns (R), announced yesterday that he will not seek re-election next year. Johanns, a former US Agriculture Secretary, two-term Nebraska governor, mayor, and county commissioner was elected to the Senate in 2008, defeating rancher Scott Kleeb 58-40 percent.

Sen. Johanns appeared to be a lock for a second term, but says he and his wife’s desire to return to “a quieter life” after what will be 32 years in public office at the end of this Congress is what drives his decision.

The seat should easily remain in Republican hands because the Democrats have a weak political bench in the Cornhusker State. With their best possible candidate, former Sen. Bob Kerrey, losing badly to freshman Sen. Deb Fischer (42-58 percent) last November in what was a clear Democratic year nationally, the party leaders and candidates will have a difficult time reaching the realm of competitiveness in 2014.

On the Republican side, the early speculation surrounds popular term-limited Gov. Dave Heineman. Clearly, he would be the party’s strongest candidate should he make the run.

If the governor takes a pass on the race, then look for one or more of the state’s three congressmen to take the leap. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1) and Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE-3) are more likely to run than 2nd District Rep. Lee Terry (R). Terry, just appointed chairman of the House Sub-Committee (of Energy & Commerce) on Commerce, Manufacturing, & Trade, may  Continue reading >

Fischer Surges to Win Nebraska Primary

font size=”2″>It seemed like a 20-plus point swing in less than 10 days was too much to possibly be true, but the We Ask America poll that detected Nebraska state Sen. Deb Fischer moving ahead of Attorney General Jon Bruning in the Republican Senatorial primary proved accurate. Despite leading all the way until the very end of the campaign, Bruning fell to Fischer 41-36 percent, with 19 percent going to state Treasurer Don Stenberg.

The victorious state legislator will now face former senator Bob Kerrey, who won the Democratic primary with 81 percent of the vote. Both will vie for the right to replace retiring Sen. Ben Nelson (D) in November.

Once again, conservative outside groups and individual Super PAC backers were able to bring down a front-runner who they deemed unacceptable. Yet, this election campaign is different. In the 2010 and early 2012 primary elections, in places like Nevada, Colorado, Alaska and Indiana, the incumbent or perceived favored candidate failed because they were to the left of the preferred candidate; but not last night in Nebraska.

Clearly the onslaught of ads aimed at perceived front-runner Bruning, probably totaling over $1 million in a small media market state, took their toll against him. The killer attack point was the charge he gained ownership in companies that he regulated in his official position and, as a result, became personally wealthy. With all sides pounding Bruning, the issue stuck, though he vehemently argued that all of his actions were completely legitimate.

And with Fischer gaining the endorsements of Sarah Palin, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1) and former governor Kay Orr, she got the credibility she needed not only to overcome Bruning, but also Stenberg, as well. Stenberg, a perennial candidate who won a statewide election in 2010, attracted the support of Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund, which accounted for more than $700,000 of the outside money infused into the race. The Senate Conservatives goal was to boost Stenberg ahead of Bruning. While we now know that Bruning fell, Stenberg moved little.

Democrats will now make the argument that since the GOP early favorite again failed their party is now in better shape to make a run in the general election. Clearly, with former senator Kerrey as their official nominee, they have a credible candidate. But, in actuality, because the ethical issues dogging Bruning proved lethal to him, the attorney general coming through this campaign, damaged, and limping across the finish line with a close win would have been the least favorable position for Republicans. Now, with the most conservative nominee in this most conservative of states, Kerrey and the Democrats no longer have the issues they had against Bruning.

Oregon and Idaho also held congressional primaries last night, and the results produced no surprises as all incumbents easily won their renomination contests.

A Wild Ending Looms in the Nebraska Senate Race

The Nebraska Republican Senate race, culminating in a primary vote tonight, has exploded in its final days. At issue is whether Attorney General Jon Bruning, the undisputed leader in the race up until this past weekend, will hold on for victory, or will state Sen. Deb Fischer nip him at the finish line. Fischer – aided by endorsements from Sarah Palin, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1), former governor Kay Orr, and an outside expenditure of more than $200,000 from TD Ameritrade founder and Chicago Cubs baseball team owner Joe Ricketts – has forged into the lead according to one political poll. The We Ask America automated survey (May 13; 1,109 likely Nebraska Republican primary voters) shows the state legislator now ahead of Bruning 39-34 percent. Nebraska Treasurer Don Stenberg, despite receiving as much as $700,000 in outside spending from Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund, continues to lag behind at 18 percent.

It is hard to know if the poll is reliable. Fischer has moved an aggregate 21 points since May 6, according to consecutive We Ask America polls. This seems like too great a swing in too short a period. Even the WAA published analysis concedes as much. Additionally, this fully automated poll was conducted on the Mother’s Day holiday, further skewing the results. Plus, We Ask America’s recent track record isn’t too strong. A week before the Illinois primary, WAA projected 16th District Rep. Don Manzullo to be holding about a half-point lead (42.6-42.2 percent) over fellow Rep. Adam Kinzinger in their incumbent Republican pairing battle. Kinzinger won going away, 54-46 percent.

It is clear that the Nebraska trends are moving toward Fischer and away from Bruning. Whether or not this break is too late will be answered in just a few hours.

A Nebraska Horse Race

Republicans will have a Senatorial nominee to oppose former Sen. Bob Kerrey tomorrow night as Nebraska voters head for the polls. Right now, retiring Sen. Ben Nelson’s seat appears to be the Republicans’ best national conversion opportunity since the North Dakota race shows continued signs of serious competition.

Attorney General Jon Bruning has been leading the Republican side since day one. He is still the decided favorite tomorrow, but the campaign momentum may have swung to state Sen. Deb Fischer who appears to have grabbed second place over state Treasurer Don Stenberg.

A series of polls have detected the Fischer momentum and the fact that Bruning has unleashed a late campaign ad attacking both of his opponents jointly suggests that his own internal data also shows movement away from him.

The two most recent released polls still register leads for the attorney general, but of varying margins. The We Ask America independent survey (May 6; 1,173 Nebraska Republican primary voters; automated calls) posts Bruning to a 42-26-22 percent lead over Fischer and Stenberg, respectively.

The Fischer campaign responded to We Ask America by releasing its own Singularis Group poll, the reliability of which is drawing questions. According to the analysis, the Fischer internal survey was conducted of 400 GOP primary voters on a Sunday night, an unusual night to form a reliable sampling universe and one-night data accumulation is often frowned upon, as well. For whatever they’re worth, the numbers gave Bruning only a 30-26-18 percent lead over Fischer and Stenberg.

The Fischer data is likely skewed. Only spending slightly over $100,000 so far on electronic media voter contact and not much over $300,000 in total, it is improbable that she could be making up so much ground in a short amount of time. For his part, Stenberg agrees that Bruning is falling but the treasurer says it is he, and not Fischer, who is surging. Stenberg is spending in the $600,000-plus range, and Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-SC) Senate Conservatives Fund has dropped an additional $700,000 in advertisements boosting his effort. Bruning has expended more than $1 million on television and well over $2.5 million for his primary campaign.

Low-turnout elections are difficult to predict, but there appears little foundation to support the idea that Bruning has, almost overnight, lost the lead he has held throughout the campaign. We’ll find out for sure tomorrow night.