2014 ballot bursting with bids for Senate, governor's post - Omaha.com
Published Thursday, July 11, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 10:02 pm
2014 ballot bursting with bids for Senate, governor's post

Nebraskans are going to need a political scoreboard for the 2014 election.

An open governor's seat and open U.S. Senate seat have driven up interest in the election, with more candidates either contemplating a run or preparing to jump into the fray.

The latest would-be candidates are State Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege and Falls City businessman Charles Herbster.

Carlson is set to announce a run for governor on Friday in the State Capitol, and Herbster could announce for governor as early as Monday.

More than 10 candidates could be in the field by next year.

The last time both seats were open without an incumbent on the ballot was in 1978, when then-Gov. J.J. Exon decided to run for U.S. Senate. That year, a total of 10 candidates ran for the two seats in the May primary, seven for governor, three for U.S. Senate.

So far this year, the governor's race has drawn the most interest. Two candidates are already out on the stump: Democrat Chuck Hassebrook of Lyons and Republican Charlie Janssen of Fremont.

Besides Herbster and Carlson, several others are mulling a bid.

Democratic State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha has been around the state on a “listening tour” as he weighs a run. State Auditor Mike Foley and Omaha businessman Pete Ricketts, both Republicans, are also considering bids.

For Foley, he has to consider whether to forgo running for re-election in order to enter a race where there is no guarantee of success.

Ricketts has to consider whether the baggage he picked up during his 2006 run against then-U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson has gone by the wayside.

Ricketts is a former Ameritrade executive whose father founded the company. In 2006, Ricketts spent about $12 million of his own money in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Nelson, a Democrat who mounted an aggressive campaign that criticized Ricketts in large part for his wealth.

Sources say Ricketts was originally considering a second run for U.S. Senate but has now turned his 2014 attention toward governor.

Finally, several people believe Attorney General Jon Bruning is still a possible candidate.

Bruning has had an interest in running for governor, even before he lost a U.S. Senate bid last year. In addition, he has more than $400,000 in the bank and does not have to jump into the race quickly. That will give him the advantage of being able to wait until the field is set and to see whether any strong contenders emerge.

As for U.S. Senate, fewer candidates have expressed an interest.

So far, only three Republicans have either jumped into the race or launched listening tours. The two confirmed candidates include former State Treasurer Shane Osborn and Omaha trial attorney Bart McLeay.

Osborn formally announced his candidacy Wednesday in Grand Island.

The third possible contender is Ben Sasse, president of Midland University in Fremont. Sasse appears to be leaning toward a run.

So far, State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha is the only Democrat to express interest in running for the seat.

Ashford, a former Republican, registered as an independent about two years ago. He recently ran for mayor in Omaha, placing fourth in a five-way race. He has said he is considering registering as a Democrat to run for U.S. Senate.

One factor that makes a Senate race more formidable is the emergence of third-party attack groups. In the last election cycle, several national political committees, including two with political ties to GOP operative Karl Rove, spent thousands of dollars in Nebraska on critical television advertisements.

In fact, a group founded by Ricketts' father, Joe Ricketts, spent about $500,000 running last-minute television ads against Bruning in the GOP primary.

“When contemplating a run for federal office in America, you have to take into consideration that someone may drop a $500,000 bomb on you, like they did to Jon Bruning,” said Barry Rubin, a Democratic political consultant. “And you have to calculate that into your decision-making process.”

Contact the writer: Robynn Tysver

robynn.tysver@owh.com    |   402-444-1309    |  

Robynn is Omaha.com's elections writer. She's covered presidential politics in Iowa's caucuses, and gubernatorial and Senate races in Nebraska.

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