DECISION 2014: High-profile races at center of Nebraska election
LINCOLN, NE (KTIV) -
Races for Nebraska governor, U.S. Senate, a competitive U.S. House race and a minimum wage ballot measure are drawing voters to the polls. Some highlights:
Pete Ricketts, a wealthy Omaha investor and former TD Ameritrade executive, is facing Democrat Chuck Hassebrook, a former University of Nebraska regent. The race has been more competitive than usual because Republican Gov. Dave Heineman is term-limited, though Republicans make up 49 percent of registered voters in Nebraska compared with 31 percent for Democrats, according to the secretary of state's office.
On Tuesday, voter Darrell Kubik, 68, said he supported Ricketts because he maintained a positive campaign.
"Everybody complains about how rich he is, but how can you fault a man for being successful?" Kubik said outside a voting site at Belmont Baptist Church in Lincoln.
Robert Bluford Jr., 60, of Lincoln, said he voted Democrat in the race in part because of the state's handling of prisoners, including some whose sentences were miscalculated. Bluford said he was particularly shocked that Nikko Jenkins was released from prison in the summer of 2013, despite his pleas for mental health treatment. Jenkins killed four people in Omaha shortly after his release and has since been convicted.
"It's the craziest thing in the world," Bluford said. "I mean, the guy told you he was going to kill somebody if he got out. And then he went and did it."
The election will trigger a major shake-up in the officially nonpartisan Legislature, which is losing one-third of its members because of term limits that bar lawmakers from serving more than two consecutive terms. Currently, Republicans outnumber Democrats 30-18, not counting independent Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha.
Six incumbent senators - five Republicans and one Democrat - are trying to fight off challengers for re-election. The Democratic incumbent, Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha, was just behind Republican Gwenn Aspen in the primary election, which in Nebraska allow the top two vote-getters in a legislative district to advance to compete in the general election. All five GOP incumbents had more votes than their opponents in the May primary.
ATTORNEY GENERAL'S RACE
Candidates in the Nebraska attorney general's race have focused on their professional experience as lawyers.
Republican Doug Peterson of Lincoln said he would bring experience from both his private practice and the time he spent as an assistant attorney under former Attorney General Robert Spire. Peterson, an attorney for 29 years, has promised that, if elected, he will not seek any other office in the future.
Democrat Janet Stewart of Fremont, an attorney with 39 years of experience, she said she would work to improve communication between the attorney general's office and state agencies in light of recent state prison scandals. The Department of Correctional Services has come under fire for miscalculating hundreds of inmate sentences, resulting in many that were released from prison too early.
Nebraska voters aren't seeing many incumbents for statewide office on this year's ballot. In addition to the term-limited governor and U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns, who decided not to seek a second term, State Auditor Mike Foley and Attorney General Jon Bruning are also leaving their jobs after running unsuccessfully for governor.
All the outgoing politicians are Republicans, and the GOP holds every statewide office as well as Nebraska's three congressional seats. Democrats are looking to break the hold, despite an uphill fight.
In the U.S. Senate race, Republican Ben Sasse, the president at Midland University in Fremont, faces Democrat Dave Domina, an Omaha attorney.
Foley decided to run for lieutenant governor under Ricketts after former Lt. Gov. Lavon Heidemann resigned and withdrew from the race after a judge granted his sister's request for a domestic abuse protection order against him.
Foley's seat as state auditor is now being sought by Sen. Amanda McGill, a Democrat from Lincoln, and Republican Sen. Charlie Janssen, of Fremont. Running to replace Bruning are Republican Doug Peterson of Lincoln and Democrat Janet Stewart of Fremont.
Secretary of State John Gale and State Treasurer Don Stenberg, both Republicans, are heavy favorites to win re-election.
THE MINIMUM WAGE AND TURNOUT
Despite a Republican advantage, Democrats are hopeful that a ballot question asking voters to increase the minimum wage will boost turnout among their supporters.
Backers of the measure, Initiative 425, have strong financial support from unions with a sizable membership in Omaha. Turning those voters out in large numbers could swing the tight Omaha-area race between eight-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Lee Terry, a Republican, and state Sen. Brad Ashford, a Democrat.
A COMPETITIVE CONGRESSIONAL RACE
The close race between Ashford and Terry has drawn national attention, and the National Republican Congressional Committee launched a series of attack ads against Ashford. One of those ads tried to tie him to Jenkins, the prison inmate who killed four people in Omaha after his release. Democrats demanded that the ad be pulled, but Republicans refused.
Terry is struggling to hold his seat after he stated last year that he would keep his federal salary during the partial government shutdown because he had a "nice house" and a child in college.