Initial Nebraska election results: Ricketts, Sasse winning


STUMPING: Republican gubernatorial candidate Pete Ricketts chats with supporters in Omaha on Election Day. Ricketts is running against Democrat Chuck Hassesbrook.

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. – Omaha businessman Pete Ricketts has been declared the winner of the governor’s race by some media outlets, as he leads former university regent Chuck Hassebrook with 55 percent of the vote, to Hassebrook’s 42 percent, in the first round of Nebraska election results, which are early ballots only.

Ricketts was considered the frontrunner, but Hassebrook has said he’s within striking distance in the closing days of the campaign.

Ricketts is former chief operating officer for Ameritrade, which was founded by his father, and Hassebrook is former executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs.

Hassebrook supported a minimum wage boost, highlighting his work with small businesses and helping farmers.

Ricketts was the Republican Senate nominee in 2006, but lost to Democrat U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, who portrayed him as an elitist who cared more about Wall Street than main street.

Minimum wage

Nebraskans are voting to increase the minimum wage with 62 percent of the vote, according to early voter results.

A $1.4 million campaign was waged to promote passage of a minimum wage hike to $8 in 2015 and $9 in 2016 and Democrats hoped its targeting of women, minorities and young people would also sweep a few Democrats into statewide office for the first time in years.

Nebraskans for Better Wages targeted lower income residents in north and south Omaha, with ads on atypical Spanish and hip-hop radio stations.

But Democrats have a steep climb in Nebraska: Republicans compose 48 percent of registered voters statewide, compared to 31 percent Democrats, and the GOP went into the election with a slight advantage in early voters statewide. The state hasn’t sent a Democratic to Congress since 1994 and hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1998. “It literally has been 16 years since there’s been a major Democratic (statewide constitutional) officeholder,” Nebraskans for Better Wages leader Jeremy Nordquist said last week. “I do think this election is important in terms of whether or not there is a future for the Democratic Party in Nebraska.”

U.S. House

Incumbent Congressman Lee Terry leads Democrat state senator Brad Ashford, 52 percent to 42 percent in a vicious battle for the 2nd Congressional District seat in Omaha.

DECISION DAY: Nebraska’s 2nd District Rep. Lee Terry R-Neb., votes in Omaha Tuesday. Terry is challenged by Democrat Brad Ashford.

Terry has bashed Ashford for being soft on crime because he supports the state’s “good time” law, which automatically cuts prisoners’ sentences in half. Terry has linked Ashford’s continued support for good time to serial killer Nikko Jenkins, who was released from prison last year and went on to kill four Omahans within 11 days. The race took a wacky turn last week when Jenkins blurted out “Vote for Lee Terry” during his competency hearing in court. In turn, Democrats have pounded on Terry for a gaffe last year when he said he would keep his salary during the government shutdown because he needed to pay for his “nice house” and put his kid through college.

U.S. Senate

Republican Ben Sasse handily defeated Democrat Dave Domina, with 61 percent of the vote to Domina’s 36 percent, in unofficial initial results to fill the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns.

Sasse is a university president who is a newcomer to politics who started out last year with virtually no name recognition statewide, but went on to walk away with 49 percent of the primary votes in a four-man race, racking up more than twice as many votes as the runner-up. He’s been christened a rising conservative star by the National Review, FOX News and conservative talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

AP Photo

RALLY: Republican Senate candidate Ben Sasse speaks at a rally in Omaha on Monday with Sen. Deb Fisher, R-Neb., right, and gubernatorial candidate Pete Ricketts, left.

Domina ran a somewhat unconventional campaign, eschewing money from outside groups but also refusing to throw millions of his own dollars at the campaign. That left him with a serious cash disadvantage. And while Democrats in some states ran from President Barack Obama, Domina proudly acknowledged he not only voted for him, he donated to him in 2008 and 2012. Even though one poll had him trailing by 29 points, last week Domina predicted a big upset on Election Day, saying on Sean Hannity’s show, “All of Washington’s election industry will wonder how we did it.”

I can’t tell you how many people have taken my hand, looked me in the eye, & thanked me for giving them hope. That’s why I’m in this. -dd — Dave Domina (@DaveDomina) November 4, 2014

Attorney General

Republican Doug Peterson, a Lincoln lawyer, leads Democrat Janet Stewart, a Fremont attorney, 63 to 38 percent.

A big issue for the new attorney general will be how to carry out the death penalty. Peterson supports the death penalty, while Stewart indicated personally she opposes it but as attorney general, she would defend it.

Nebraska is among 32 states with a death penalty, but hasn’t carried out an execution since 1997. After the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled the electric chair unconstitutional in 2008, the state switched to lethal injection. But like other states, Nebraska has had trouble obtaining lethal drugs as death penalty opponents have pressured pharmaceutical suppliers with threats of legal action.

Peterson has said he thinks Nebraska can overcome that problem.

State Auditor
Two state senators are battling to succeed the state’s aggressive state auditor, Mike Foley, who is running for lieutenant governor with Ricketts.

Democrat Amanda McGill and Republican Charlie Janssen leads 55 to 45 percent.

The normally sleepy race ramped up in recent weeks when Republicans criticized McGill for traveling excessively on campaign and taxpayer dollars, while Democrats alleged Janssen has a conflict of interest because his company holds over a million dollars in state contracts.

Clayton and I just voted. How about you?

— Amanda McGill (@amanda4auditor) November 4, 2014

University regents

Incumbent Rob Schafer trails challenger Steve Glenn with Glenn leading with 53 percent to Schafer’s 47 percent. Both are Republicans.

The race for a Lincoln seat on the University of Nebraska Board of Regents morphed into a debate about Husker football coach Bo Pelini in the closing weeks, when Schafer accused Glenn of calling him last year and threatening to run for his seat if he didn’t fire the coach.

Regents don’t hire and fire coaches, but they do hire university presidents, and Glenn called Schafer unethical for accepting a campaign contribution from Gov. Dave Heineman, who applied to be NU president. Heineman ultimately didn’t make the list of four finalists released Monday.

Follow Deena on Twitter at @DeenaNEWatchdog

Editor’s note: to subscribe to News Updates from Nebraska Watchdog at no cost, click here.