Kleeb Wins Primary, Will Face Johanns in Fall

Posted May 14, 2008 at 5:52pm

Nebraska Democrats have set up a November Senate race of stark contrasts, nominating rancher and college lecturer Scott Kleeb to face ex-Agriculture Secretary and former Gov. Mike Johanns (R) in the race to replace Sen. Chuck Hagel (R), who is retiring.

Kleeb easily defeated wealthy businessman and former Republican Tony Raimondo in the Democratic Senate primary Tuesday, winning 69 percent to 25 percent. Raimondo, a one-time appointee of President Bush to be chairman of the Federal Reserve Board’s Omaha branch, was a Republican until earlier this year. In fact, he had planned to run for Senate as a Republican until it became clear that the GOP establishment was coalescing behind Johanns.

Raimondo had advertised heavily on television and picked up some key endorsements, but Kleeb, a favorite of grass-roots Democrats in the Cornhusker State, prevailed with little trouble.

According to Nebraska media outlets Wednesday, Johanns was quickly trying to paint 32-year-old Kleeb as out of step with average voters. Kleeb, who is 26 years younger than Johanns, was casting himself as a change agent.

“We work for change, not because it’s easy, but because it’s right,” Kleeb told supporters Tuesday night.

Kleeb’s ability to compete with Johanns may depend on how much the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is willing to invest in Nebraska.

Although Democrats are threatening several Senate seats held by the Republicans, Johanns remains heavily favored to succeed Hagel in Nebraska, which is still considered solid Republican territory. However, Kleeb is an appealing candidate and the financially flush DSCC may choose to get involved.

The House primaries in Nebraska were virtually uncontested, and the Republican incumbents serving in all three of Nebraska’s House districts won handily. In the Democratic primary in Rep. Lee Terry’s (R) 2nd district, 2006 nominee Jim Esch battled college instructor Richard Carter. Esch, a businessman who held Terry to 55 percent of the vote in 2006, won going away, 81 percent to 19 percent.

Meanwhile, in West Virginia on Tuesday, Democrats nominated Anne Barth, a former state director for Sen. Robert Byrd (D), to take on Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) in what is expected to be the most competitive Congressional race in the state this cycle. Former state Sen. Jay Wolfe won the Republican nomination to take on four-term Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D).