Omaha Mayor’s Race: The Rope-a-Dope Rolls On

Omaha, NE—Republican Jean Stothert $75,000. Democrat Heath Mello zero.

Those are the latest, and apparently unprecedented, ad numbers in Omaha’s one-sided, TV-mayor’s race.

With the April 4 primary just four weeks away, Team Mello continues to play what News Channel Nebraska first exposed: a bold—some say risky—campaign strategy (a strategy his campaign has never acknowledged).

As every day passes the questionable game plan—lay low and finish second in the primary but win the general election—holds true.

According to the latest public records examined by News Channel Nebraska, through March 20th incumbent Stothert has purchased at least $75,000 in television commercials, a number that could easily grow over the next two weeks. Mello hasn’t shelled out a dime on TV.

Stothert’s spend-it-if-you’ve-got it strategy is backed up by the latest state campaign finance reports; reports which also find Mello’s fundraising gaining steam.

Since the first of the year:

  • Stothert raised $114,000, Mello raised $266,000.
  • Stothert spent $$280,000, Mello spent $173,000.

Stothert went into March with $708,000 cash on hand, Mello had $520,000. 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.

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 unlike Mello, Suttle was on TV in the primary.

So, will Mello’s rope-a-dope strategy work?

Most likely that 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.

Which raises another question. Will Mello run any ads in the primary? In early February his campaign said TV ads were coming soon.

That was five weeks ago—stay tuned.

Follow Joe Jordan on Twitter, @JoeJordanNE.

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