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2nd District is focus as Nebraska residents vote in primary

May 15, 2018

FILE- In this April 5, 2018, file photo, Brad Ashford, one of two Democrats vying to challenge 2nd District House incumbent Don Bacon, R-Neb., campaigns in Omaha, Neb. The Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District has changed party hands twice in the past two elections, and Democrats Brad Ashford and Kara Eastman are optimistic they can defeat first-term U.S. Rep. Don Bacon. Democratic and independent voters will pick Ashford or Eastman as the party's nominee in the primary election, Tuesday, May 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District has switched party representation repeatedly in the past six years, and two Democrats will vie Tuesday for the chance to again snatch it back from Republicans.

The race between former Congressman Brad Ashford and children’s nonprofit group director Kara Eastman for the Democratic nomination is among the highest-profile contests in Nebraska’s primary election. The winner will face Republican U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, who defeated Ashford in 2016 and has no primary challenger.

Other top races include crowded fields in both parties for governor and U.S. Senate nominations and a two-person race for treasurer that likely will mean a general election victory for the winner.

Here’s a breakdown of races to watch throughout the day.

2ND CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT

The 2nd District is the only truly competitive congressional seat in deep-red Nebraska, and this year the race for the Democratic nomination has featured two well-funded candidates.

Ashford has touted his experience in Congress as an asset for residents in the district, arguing he could help broker compromises in a gridlocked Washington. Eastman has cast herself as a progressive alternative to the centrist Ashford, who also has been registered as a Republican and independent. Eastman says she would bring a fresh perspective to the office and argues her views better reflect those of Omaha-area residents.

The district encompasses Omaha and parts of the city’s suburbs.

In 2016, Bacon beat Ashford by less than 4,000 votes.

U.S. SENATE

Four Democrats are vying for the chance to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Deb Fischer, a tough prospect in overwhelmingly conservative Nebraska.

The best-financed Democrat in the race is Jane Raybould, a Lincoln city councilwoman who helps run a Nebraska grocery store chain founded by her late father. Raybould ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2014.

The other Democrats are Frank Svoboda, a retired farmer, attorney and judge from Lincoln; Larry Marvin, a retired real estate broker from Fremont; and Chris Janicek, of Omaha, who owns a specialty cake business.

Fischer faces challenges from four fellow Republicans as well, but enjoys a substantial fundraising advantage and statewide name recognition. Her primary challengers are Jack Heidel, a retired math professor from Omaha; Dennis Frank Macek, a writer and retired air conditioning technician from Lincoln; Jeffrey Lynn Stein, a professional photographer from Omaha; and Lincoln businessman Todd Watson.

Libertarian Jim Schultz is running unopposed for his party’s nomination.

GOVERNOR

Incumbent Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts is likely to secure his party’s nomination to seek a second four-year term. Ricketts is running against Krystal Gabel, of Omaha, a registered Republican who has volunteered to create the Legal Marijuana Now Party of Nebraska.

On the Democratic side, three candidates are aiming for their party’s nod. State Sen. Bob Krist, of Omaha, a former Republican and independent, is pitching himself as a less partisan alternative to Ricketts who would work more collaboratively with the Legislature.

Democrat Vanessa Gayle Ward, an Omaha community activist, and University of Nebraska at Omaha instructor Tyler Davis are also seeking the nomination in their first bids for public office.

1ST AND 3RD CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICTS

Two Lincoln Democrats in the 1st Congressional District are competing to face incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who is unopposed in this year’s primary.

Personal injury lawyer Dennis Crawford and regulatory compliance specialist Jessica McClure have both emphasized support for universal health care in their platforms. They also have sharply criticized the Republican tax law approved last year.

The winner will face an uphill battle against Fortenberry, who is seeking an eighth term in Congress.

In the sprawling 3rd Congressional District, three GOP candidates are challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith, who enjoys a major fundraising advantage. The candidates are Kirk Penner, an Aurora small business executive; Larry Lee Scott Bollinger, a property manager and author from Alliance; and Arron Kowalski, a Grand Island farmer.

Democrat Paul Theobald is unopposed for his party’s nomination, but will be a giant underdog in the overwhelmingly Republican district.

STATE TREASURER

Because no Democrats are running for Nebraska state treasurer, the winner of Tuesday’s Republican primary is all but certain to get the job.

Two Republicans are in the running: State Sen. John Murante of Gretna and Taylor Royal, a certified public accountant from Omaha. Murante has outraised Royal and won the endorsements of the state’s top political leaders, including Gov. Pete Ricketts, current State Treasurer Don Stenberg and former Gov. Kay Orr.

Royal, who ran unsuccessfully for Omaha mayor last year, points to his experience as a financial adviser and accountant as a plus for the job.

LEGISLATIVE RACES

The primary could also give some shape to next year’s state Legislature in races with more than two candidates.

Legislative races are officially nonpartisan, but Tuesday’s election will eliminate some candidates and make way for the two top vote-getters in each district to face off in November.

Of the 24 districts that are up for election, 10 have more than three candidates vying for the seat. Two of those districts in rural Nebraska have six candidates each who are running.

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Follow Grant Schulte on Twitter at https://twitter.com/GrantSchulte

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