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Primary Update: Nebraska Gov. Wins Tough Primary

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman pulled off a stunning come-from-behind victory over Rep. Tom Osborne to claim the Republican Party nomination.

Shortly after midnight East Coast time, AP called the race for Heineman, who won about 50 percent of the vote, compared with 44 percent for the legendary former coach of the University of Nebraska football team. Businessman Dave Nabity had around 5 percent. The Lincoln Journal Star reported around 12:15 a.m. ET that Osborne has conceded.

Heineman's victory was unimaginable when Osborne announced last year that he would leave his western Nebraska House seat to run for governor. Polling showed Heineman trailing by huge margins. But Heineman, who took over as governor in January 2005 when Mike Johanns (R) was named Secretary of Agriculture in President Bush's Cabinet, resisted entreaties to enter the Senate race and instead focused on racking up accomplishments with the belief that Nebraska voters would opt to stay the course rather than make a change if he showed he was up to the job. That prediction proved prescient Tuesday night.

Democrat David Hahn won his party's gubernatorial primary easily after his opponent was ruled inelgiible due to a prior felony conviction on drug charges. Hahn has little chance in the general election against Heineman given the state's strong Republican nature.

Elsewhere in the Cornhusker State, former Ameritrade executive Pete Ricketts secured the Republican Senate nomination, beating back former state Attorney General Don Stenberg and former party chairman David Kramer. Ricketts, who's running in his first political campaign, emerged from the pack thanks to nearly $5 million in personal donations. He will face Sen. Ben Nelson (D) in the fall in what could be one of Republicans' few takeover chances this year.

In the 3rd District, which Osborne vacated to run for governor, state Sen. Adrian Smith bested Osborne aide John Hanson and Grand Island Mayor Jay Vavricek to win the Republican nomination. Smith, who is in his mid 30s, cast himself as someone who could be in Washington for decades, accruing seniority to benefit the state. He also benefitted from strong financial support from the D.C.-based Club for Growth, which helped Smith raise and spend the most money of the three main candidates.

West Virginia

Republicans breathed a sigh of relief in West Virginia as 1984 Senate nominee John Raese defeated 2004 state Attorney General nominee Hiram Lewis to claim the party's nomination. Party insiders at the national level had made clear that Raese, who is independently wealthy, was their preferred candidate to challenge Sen. Robert Byrd (D) in November.

"Senator Byrd's voting record and principles are no longer in touch with mainstream West Virginians, and with a challenger as strong as John Raese, Senator Byrd's liberal record puts him in serious electoral danger," said National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairwoman Elizabeth Dole (N.C.). Raese begins the contest as a decided underdog, however.

Here's the Associated Press write-up of the Nebraska and West Virginia results.

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 10, 2006; 12:23 AM ET
Categories:  Governors , House , Senate  
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Talk about an astute politician! Nebraska Governor Heineman was a master at kissing babies and working the media.
With the Cornhusker State a pool of Presidential Candidates, I think Heineman might be a guy to watch for U.S. President sometime in the future.
And I am a big time liberal.

Ricky From Omaha

Posted by: Ricky | May 10, 2006 7:47 AM | Report abuse

Ben Nelson is awesome! He is my kind of Democrat. He voted for Roberts and Alito and he is pro-life. He is a common-senss, middle-of-the-road Democrat who supports the President when he is right and opposes him when he is wrong. I like his independence.

Posted by: Natalee H. | May 10, 2006 12:49 AM | Report abuse

Not so fast, the same commentators who claimed Heineman had no chance, now say that Hahn has no chance. Heineman ran to the far right, leaving the silent moderate majority to Hahn. Heineman said he would support and sign the "South Dakota" bill on Abortion. Nebraska under seven years of Johanns/ Heinemann and a Republican Unicameral was 49th in economic development in 2004 while Iowa with a democratic governor and legislature was first.

Not so fast, the governor's race will be very competitive.

Posted by: vince powers | May 10, 2006 12:49 AM | Report abuse

Seeing as how Nelson won in 2000(a fairly "even" year with no major tilt towards either party ) and now it is 2006,(a year with a democratic tilt) I think Ben Nelson will prevail in the Nebraska Senate race. His performance in the Senate has made him the most popular Senator in the country with an approval rating of 73%. It will be interesting to see how much $$ Ricketts burns on this race, though.

Posted by: Ohio guy | May 10, 2006 12:34 AM | Report abuse

heineman pulled it offff, did he?

Posted by: edit | May 9, 2006 11:57 PM | Report abuse

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