Kleeb Wins Nebraska Senate Primary, Goes Into Campaign With Johanns as the Underdog

Posted May 14, 2008 at 9:46am

Nebraska Democrats on Tuesday nominated one of their own, 2006 3rd district nominee Scott Kleeb, to face ex-Agriculture Secretary and former Gov. Mike Johanns (R) in the race to replace Sen. Chuck Hagel (R), who is retiring.

Kleeb easily defeated wealthy businessman and former Republican Tony Raimondo in the Democratic Senate primary, winning 69 percent to 25 percent. Raimondo, a one-timer appointee of President Bush to be chairman of the Federal Reserve Board’s Omaha branch, was a Republican until earlier this year, and in fact had planned to run for Senate as a Republican until it became clear that the GOP establishment was coalescing behind Johanns.

Raimondo had advertised heavily on television and picked up some key endorsements, but Kleeb, a rancher, college professor and favorite of grassroots Democrats in the Cornhusker State, ultimately prevailed with little trouble in a field of four candidates. Johanns defeated Pat Flynn in the Republican Senate primary 78 percent to 22 percent, although the results of that contest never were in doubt.

Although Democrats are threatening in several Senate seats currently held by the Republicans, Johanns remains heavily favored to succeed Hagel in Nebraska, which is still considered solid Republican territory. However, Kleeb is an appealing candidate and the financially flush Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee may choose to invest some money on the race.

The House primaries in Nebraska were virtually uncontested, and the Republican incumbents serving in all three of Nebraska’s House districts all won handily. However, the Democratic primary in Rep. Lee Terry’s (R) 2nd district, where 2006 nominee Jim Esch was battling college instructor Richard Carter, was somewhat in doubt. Esch, a businessman who held Terry to 55 percent of the vote in 2006, won going away, 81 percent to 19 percent.

—David M. Drucker