Nebraska Primary Wrap-Up

May 16, 2006 · 12:02 AM EDT

Last week’s heavyweight primary between Gov. Dave Heineman (R) and Rep. Tom Osborne (R-NE) lived up to the hype. Even though Osborne started with a large lead and seemingly impenetrable popularity, Heineman’s victory was neither a surprise nor an upset, but it was an incredible finesse campaign by the governor.

When President Bush appointed Gov. Mike Johanns (R) to his cabinet, Heineman moved up to the state’s top slot. Heineman succeeded in acting the part, and in the end, voters failed to see a reason to fire their new governor. “It was a slam dunk [for Osborne] early on before anyone knew who the governor was,” said Jim Innocenzi, Heineman’s media consultant, “It ultimately came down to Dave doing a good job and he did.”

According to polling for the governor’s campaign back in June 2005, Osborne started the race with incredible 90% favorable/7% unfavorable ratings and a 56%-32% advantage over Heineman in the primary match-up. Amazingly, Osborne finished the race with 80% favorable/16% unfavorable ratings but lost the nomination 50%-44%. “We wanted to create a choice between an icon and a guy who is doing a great job,” added Innocenzi. Because of coach’s popularity, Heineman did not have the opportunity to attack his opponent.

Osborne is a stranger to defeat. He posted a lifetime coaching record of 255-49-3. And in his last five years as head football coach at Nebraska, Osborne went 60-3 with three national championships. He also won three terms in Congress. But it’s this last battle that will be in the back of his mind. Heineman is now the heavy favorite against David Hahn in the general election and the seat is Safe Republican.

But Bush’s appointment of Johanns still has some Republicans scratching their heads because it took the GOP’s best challenger to Sen. Ben Nelson (D) off the table. Wealthy businessman Pete Ricketts (R) won the primary on Tuesday with 48% over former state attorney general Don Stenberg (36%) and former state party chairman David Kramer (16%).

Ricketts has plenty of personal money to invest in the race even though demonizing Nelson will be difficult. But with the state’s strong Republican bent and Nelson’s narrow victory six years ago, the race is worth watching; Democrat Favored.

This item first appeared on Political Wire on May 11, 2006.