Some GOP seats safer than others in Nebraska election

FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2020 file photo, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., speaks during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Republican incumbent is running for reelection. (Hilary Swift/The New York Times via AP, Pool, File)

By GRANT SCHULTE Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Republican Sen. Ben Sasse will almost certainly coast to a second term on Tuesday, thanks to the GOP’s dominance in Nebraska and a scandal-plagued Democratic nominee who refused to withdraw even after his own party disavowed him.

The same cannot be said of Republican Rep. Don Bacon, who faces a tough challenge from Democrat Kara Eastman in the 2nd Congressional District, encompassing Omaha and its suburbs. Bacon and Eastman are locked in a tight race and have saturated the airwaves with campaign ads attacking one another.

Voters will decide those races and others in an election that has already seen strong early turnout because of the coronavirus pandemic and aggressive get-out-the-vote campaigns.

Sasse is seeking reelection against Omaha cupcake bakery owner Chris Janicek, a Democrat who was roundly criticized after he admitted to sending sexually explicit texts about a female campaign worker in a group text message.

Nebraska Democratic Party officials spent months trying to force Janicek out of the race, but state law does not allow them to remove his name from the ballot without his permission. They eventually endorsed longtime party activist Preston Love Jr. as a write-in candidate.

Love acknowledged in September that he’s a long-shot candidate, but added: “I am going to run as if I had all the money that I need and all the love that I need and that we give people an alternative.”

Sasse has campaigned as a reliable, traditional conservative, but he has also clashed publicly with President Donald Trump, drawing criticism from some party activists at home. He warded off a primary challenge from a pro-Trump GOP activist, however, and was expected to win even before the Janicek scandal.

The race between Eastman and Bacon is much more competitive, with each candidate criticizing the other’s approach to health care policy and pandemic relief, among other issues. Bacon has portrayed Eastman as too liberal for the generally moderate district, while Eastman has sought to tie Bacon to Trump and his inflammatory rhetoric.

In Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District, which includes Lincoln, Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry enjoys a big advantage. But he has aired an unusual number of television ads attacking his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Kate Bolz, of Lincoln.

Bolz has also raised enough money to run television ads throughout the district, pointing to her upbringing on a family farm and her work in the Legislature. Her legislative district has traditionally been represented by Republicans.

In Nebraska’s rural, deeply Republican 3rd Congressional District, Rep. Adrian Smith is all but certain to coast to reelection. His Democratic challenger, Mark Elworth Jr., doesn’t live in the district and has focused his campaign on legalizing marijuana.

The election will also determine the makeup of Nebraska’s officially nonpartisan Legislature, where Republicans enjoy a solid majority. That is not likely to change, although both parties hope to gain seats.


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


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