Nebraska Vote Sets Up Senate Race

Posted May 12, 2008 at 6:13pm

With today’s scheduled Nebraska primaries amounting to nothing more than a coronation for Republican Senate candidate Mike Johanns, uncertainty remains over which Democrat will face him in the general election: Scott Kleeb or Tony Raimondo.

Voters also are going to the polls today in West Virginia, though none of the Congressional primaries appears to be competitive.

Johanns, a former governor and ex-Agriculture secretary, has minimal opposition in the GOP primary and was set to spend Monday and today campaigning in Omaha. Kleeb, the 3rd district nominee in 2006 and a favorite of grass-roots Democrats, remained locked in a close race with Raimondo, a wealthy businessman who was a Republican until earlier this year.

Nebraska remains solid conservative territory, with enrolled Republicans outnumbering Democrats 550,581 to 372,864. But Democrats are hoping to score a surprise upset as they seek to flip the seat held by retiring Sen. Chuck Hagel (R).

“Everywhere we’ve been across Nebraska, people have said the same thing: They want change,” Kleeb campaign spokesman Joe Zepecki said. “There’s no question that Scott Kleeb is the change candidate in this election, and voters here recognize that.”

Kleeb has picked up the support of about half of the Democrats serving in the state’s unicameral Legislature. Raimondo has been endorsed by 2006 2nd district Democratic nominee Jim Esch, who is running for that seat again this year, and former state Democratic Party Chairwoman Anne Boyle.

On the eve of the primary, neither the Kleeb nor Raimondo campaign professed to have any polling data indicating who might win today’s contest. Further complicating predictions is the expected low voter turnout.

With the presidential primaries in the state already out of the way, the Nebraska secretary of state expects a meager 27 percent of registered voters to turn out. Low turnout could benefit Kleeb, who is more well-known among the kind of grass-roots Democrats likely to vote in the primary. But the Raimondo campaign is undaunted.

“Nebraska Democrats have responded remarkably to Tony’s message of bringing a fresh approach to Washington,” Raimondo campaign spokesman Eric Fought said. “We’ve run a very positive campaign of substance and I believe Tony will be the nominee.”

The House primaries are a relatively quiet affair, save for the 2nd district Democratic primary. Although Rep. Lee Terry (R) remains favored to win a sixth term in his Republican-leaning Omaha-area district, college instructor Richard Carter and Esch, a businessman, are fighting for the right to face him in November.

In the 1st district, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R) and Iraq War veteran Max Yashirin (D) are each running unopposed in their respective primaries. Fortenberry is currently favored to win another term in this Republican-leaning seat.

In the 3rd district, freshman Rep. Adrian Smith (R) is facing minimal opposition in his primary, and should cruise to re-election over whomever emerges from the Democratic primary: former Nebraska secretary of state candidate Jay Stoddard or Pierce County Democratic Party Chairman Paul Spatz.

“Our Congressmen have been doing a great job in Washington for the last two years,” Nebraska Republican Party Executive Director Matt Miltenberger said. “I don’t see any reason why voters won’t send them back come November.”

In West Virginia, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) faces nominal primary opposition, and his Republican opponent, former state Sen. Jay Wolfe, already has the nomination sewn up.

1st district Rep. Alan Mollohan (D) faces no opposition whatsoever — in the primary or in the general election — and in the 3rd district, Rep. Nick Rahall (D) and sign company executive Marty Gearhart (R) already have their nominations secured.

In the 2nd district, Anne Barth (D), a former top aide to Sen. Robert Byrd (D), is heavily favored in today’s Democratic primary and is expected to give Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) a tough race in November.