Election notes: Nebraska primary election voter turnout is low statewide

Voter turnout was light for Nebraska’s 2018 primary election.

Secretary of State John Gale had predicted a statewide turnout of 28 percent of registered voters.

Early figures put turnout at about 23 percent as votes continued to be counted.

Gale based his prediction on historical voting patterns, the 47,516 additional voters on the rolls, “the contested nature of the races in the primary” and “the percentage of people likely to vote early,” he said in a release.

Nebraska has just fewer than 1.2 million registered voters, so he predicted turnout of about 336,000.

Civic Nebraska, a nonpartisan group that works to protect voter rights, had election observers in several counties, including Douglas, Sarpy and Lancaster, and had a hotline for reporting problems. The group said it received some reports of voters receiving incorrect ballots and having their registration unexpectedly changed.

With no Democratic challenger, John Murante looks ahead to being state treasurer

Nebraska Republicans chose as state treasurer the Gretna state senator many of them knew, John Murante, 36, over the former Omaha mayoral candidate many of them met during the campaign, Taylor Royal, 28.

Because Nebraska Democrats fielded no candidate in the state race and no write-in candidate appears to have cleared the threshold to appear on the general election ballot this fall, Murante is essentially the treasurer-elect.

Murante in January will assume the responsibility for paying the state’s bills and helping others learn to pay theirs. His focus until then, he said Wednesday, is preparing a smooth transition for taxpayers from Don Stenberg to him.

“Now is a long preparation process to make sure checks go out on time,” Murante said. “We take for granted in Nebraska the benefits of having a high-quality state treasurer because Don Stenberg and Shane Osborn did such a fantastic job.”

Among the areas Murante plans to focus on first: communicating about unclaimed property and opportunities to save for college; making sure Nebraskans can more easily search, find and monitor state contracts; and boosting public accountability.

He’s already spoken with the Nebraska Bankers Association and is preparing to reach out to accountants to update a curriculum to teach Nebraska’s K-12 students financial literacy, something Stenberg, Murante and Royal all said they value.

Murante’s also discussed working with the Legislature in coming years to expand the use of Nebraska’s 529 college savings plans to save and pay for private K-12 schooling. He says the office can and should engage more politically where appropriate.

Murante is known for proposing bills popular with conservatives, including voter ID, higher speed limits, redistricting for partisan advantage and more. He also has worked closely with Stenberg on the office’s needs.

The immensity of the jump from a part-time, $12,000-a-year job as a state legislator to a full-time, $85,000 statewide post is starting to sink in, Murante said. Resignation timing is being discussed. Meetings are being scheduled. People are seeking jobs.

Republican primary races for treasurer are often quiet, but Royal, as during his unsuccessful 2017 primary bid for Omaha mayor, didn’t hesitate to take on the favored candidate. He attacked Murante’s small-business background and record.

But on Wednesday, Royal credited Murante for running a hard, smart race. He stepped away from some of his most frequent criticisms and said Murante was prepared to manage taxpayer money. He said the senator would serve Nebraskans well.

“I’ll be rooting him on from the sidelines,” Royal said.

Murante focused his campaign on running even in Douglas County, winning big in Sarpy and Lancaster Counties, competing in western Nebraska and winning most central Nebraska counties between Lincoln and North Platte. That’s just what he did.

Murante, who has never hidden his ambitions for higher office, said he hopes to serve two four-year terms as treasurer.

Royal says he is looking forward to spending more time as a private citizen, with his wife and friends, work and church communities. He did not explicitly close the door to future political campaigns but said that for now, he is done.

Sen. Deb Fischer will face Jane Raybould in general election; both have ties to agriculture

The race for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Deb Fischer will feature two candidates with ties to agriculture and agribusiness, Fischer and Democrat Jane Raybould.

Fischer, whose family ranches near Valentine, steamrolled a crowded and sometimes feisty Republican primary field Tuesday largely without engaging her underfunded challengers.

Her main opponent in this fall’s general election, Raybould, a Lincoln City Councilwoman and grocer, did much the same to a group of poorly funded Democrats.

Both campaigns spent much of the run-up to Tuesday’s primaries highlighting differences with each other, including on abortion, tax cuts and trade.

“I didn’t focus on any of my primary opponents,” Fischer said. “I focus on the issues. I’m straightforward. I answer questions. I look them in the eye. We’re going to continue that. I’m going to be who I am.”

Raybould, in an interview Tuesday night, said Nebraskans “are ready for an independent-minded leader.” They want someone who will listen to their concerns about the future of health care, Social Security and Medicare, she said.

Pete Ricketts, Bob Krist cruise to wins in governor’s race

LINCOLN — Nebraska voters set up a November gubernatorial showdown between Gov. Pete Ricketts and State Sen. Bob Krist as both candidates cruised to wins in Tuesday’s primary election.

Ricketts, the Republican incumbent, enjoys considerable advantages heading into the Nov. 6 general election, including better name recognition and more money in his campaign coffer. That helps explain why Ricketts never mentioned his Democratic opponent during a victory speech at the Belvedere Club in Papillion.

And it points to why Krist used his address at the North Shore Tavern in Omaha to take shots at the governor, something he did frequently from the floor of the Legislature.

Krist said the governor’s most recent tax proposal would have given millions of dollars in savings to corporations such as TD Ameritrade, the Omaha brokerage founded by the Ricketts family. The average homeowner, meanwhile, would have seen about $25 in savings on property taxes in the first year.

“Thanks for the pizza night, Pete. Hope you enjoy the yacht,” Krist said.

Wednesday morning, Ricketts’ campaign spokesman Matthew Trail noted that the governor does not own a yacht.

Ricketts, meanwhile, on Tuesday night listed accomplishments from his first term, which included cutting the growth of state government and launching a new unemployment assistance program, which he calls a “re-employment program.” He also said his administration helped Nebraska lead the nation in economic development projects per capita the last two years running.

But the governor said he isn’t taking anything for granted as he urged his supporters to help get out the vote come November.

“We’re getting the job done, and we’re just getting started,” he said.

In other statewide races, Bob Evnen of Lincoln had a comfortable lead in the Republican contest for secretary of state and will face Democratic candidate Spencer Danner of Omaha, who was unopposed.

In the race for state auditor, Republican incumbent Charlie Janssen of Fremont will face Democratic challenger Jane Skinner of Omaha. Both candidates were unopposed in the primary.

It remains to be seen whether Attorney General Doug Peterson, a Republican, will face a challenger in the general election. Democratic candidate Van Argyrakis of Omaha lost the endorsement of his party after he was charged last month with attacking his elderly father. Argyrakis has not yet said whether he will continue his campaign.

Ricketts-backed legislative candidates have mixed results; 2 incumbents struggle

LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts’ backing proved no guarantee of success Tuesday for candidates seeking seats in the Nebraska Legislature.

Three candidates who got money or an endorsement from the state’s top Republican official were eliminated in the primary, while three others finished second in their races.

But four of the governor’s picks led the balloting in their districts, based on unofficial results.

They included State Sens. Robert Clements of Elmwood and Theresa Thibodeau of Omaha, who were appointed to their seats in 2017 and had not yet faced voters until Tuesday.

All 16 of the legislative incumbents survived the primary, but two face tough battles to hang on to their seats in November.

In District 32, State Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete, a Republican-turned-Libertarian, struggled against attack ads launched by the Nebraska Republican Party.

She came in well behind Plymouth farmer Tom Brandt, a Republican, while Al Riskowski of Martell, the candidate with Ricketts’ endorsement, was eliminated.

In District 12, incumbent Sen. Merv Riepe of Ralston trailed former Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, who is seeking a return to the Legislature after sitting out four years. Both advanced to the general election.

Riepe is among the candidates with the governor’s support who came in second.

The Ricketts-backed candidates who were eliminated, along with Riskowski, include former GOP official Joe Murray of Firth, who came in third in District 30, and farmer Shane Greckel of Bloomfield, who finished just out of the running in District 40.

The unofficial results of Tuesday’s voting set up 13 general election battles pitting Republicans against Democrats, along with one Republican-Libertarian matchup and a Republican-independent race.

Republicans now claim 18 of the 24 seats up for election.

In District 42, write-in candidate Judy Pederson of North Platte collected enough votes to earn a spot on the official ballot in November. She is challenging incumbent Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte.

She joins about a dozen women who will be on the ballot for the Legislature in the fall. Women currently fill four of the seats up for election.


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