Omaha businessman Pete Ricketts narrowly won Nebraska’s Republican gubernatorial primary Tuesday night, putting him on track to become the Cornhusker State’s next chief executive.
Ricketts won 26 percent of the vote, according to the Associated Press, which called the race early Wednesday morning, with state Attorney General Jon Bruning close behind with 25 percent in the winner-take-all contest. State legislator Beau McCoy trailed with 21 percent and state Auditor Mike Foley had 19 percent, while two other candidates split the remainder of the GOP vote.
With that, Ricketts cleared the biggest hurdle between him and the governorship by just over 2,000 votes. Nebraska has not elected a Democrat to its highest office since 1994. Ricketts will face Democrat Chuck Hassebrook, who ran uncontested in the Democratic primary, in the general election.
Tuesday’s win offers a shot at political redemption for Ricketts, the former TD Ameritrade executive who lost the state’s 2006 Senate race to Democrat Ben Nelson by 29 percentage points. It’s also the second time in two years that the Ricketts family has derailed Bruning’s political ambitions. Bruning ran for Nebraska’s open U.S. Senate seat in 2012, but a wave of attack ads from outside groups — including one established and funded by Ricketts’s father — helped sink Bruning’s candidacy.
That same family wealth attracted outsize attention to the governor’s race from 2016 Republican presidential contenders. The younger Ricketts was endorsed by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Vice President (and Nebraska native) Dick Cheney also endorsed Ricketts.
Bruning’s late entry to the race in February put two heavyweights in the gubernatorial contest, and polls showed him and Ricketts running neck-and-neck heading into the final days of the primary. Ricketts benefited from a cash advantage that allowed him to blanket the airwaves with TV ads, and he got a boost from a handful of outside groups that ran TV ads attacking Bruning. The primary marked the first time such groups have made a major play in a Nebraska governor’s race, and Bruning blamed Ricketts for their involvement.