Exclusive: ‘Risky’ Business in Omaha Mayor’s Race

Omaha, NE—News Channel Nebraska has learned of a bold— some say risky—campaign strategy on the table in the Omaha mayor’s race.

According to sources, the questionable game plan— finish second in the primary but win the general election— is being considered by Democrat Heath Mello and it comes in the face of incumbent Republican Jean Stothert’s TV ad debut.

According to public records examined by News Channel Nebraska, Stothert is scheduled to launch her air war Tuesday (tomorrow) with a week’s worth of ads costing $15,000—another $9,000 is already on the books for the following week with plenty of time to increase it.

Stothert TV “Buy” on KETV

Mello’s campaign manager, Paige Hutchinson, says she’s not concerned that Stothert is on the air first noting that Mello has been going door-to-door across the city adding, “Her buy is really small.”

But when asked by News Channel Nebraska on February 1 when Mello’s TV commercials would start a campaign spokesperson replied, “TV ads will be happening soon.”

Nearly three weeks later though there are still no signs of any ads from Mello.

And as at least one loyal Omaha Democrat privately tells News Channel Nebraska, “That’s a problem.”

The kind of problem that apparently puts the make or break strategy on Team Mello’s drawing board.

As News Channel Nebraska first reported Stothert’s campaign began the year with $890,000 in the bank—twice as much as Mello’s $427,000.

It’s the kind of money that finds talk of Mello downplaying the April 4th primary, concentrating cash and commercials for the five weeks between the primary and the May 9 general election when plenty more voters—25,000 in 2013, a 41 percent increase over that year’s primary—should be in play.

Would that strategy work?

Well that likely depends on how deep a hole Mello is in after the primary.

Lose close and you’ve got plenty of cash for the final laps.

Lose big and that extra cash might not matter, given the added likelihood that Stothert’s campaign would double down with contributors—using a big win to capitalize on momentum and raise even more cash.

Omaha’s mayoral history says you can lose the primary and win the general but it doesn’t happen often.

The last time was eight years ago when Democrat Jim Suttle finished second in a three-way primary to Republican Hal Daub. Though he came up 427 votes short in the primary, Suttle turned around and won the general by 1,533 votes.

But there were at least two key factors playing in Suttle’s favor:

  • Unlike Mello, Suttle wasn’t running against an incumbent.
  • And —arguably most importantly—Suttle had enough money to fight. According to state records, on January 1, 2009 Suttle trailed Daub by $90,000. Not nearly the $463,000 difference Mello faced on New Year’s Day.

In a statement released Monday Mello’s campaign said, “We are on target to hit our goals for both the primary and general elections.”

Asked by News Channel Nebraska if Mello was planning to all but punt the primary and go for broke in the general election his campaign manager Hutchinson said, “I don’t know that I can speak to that…not at this point.”

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