LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska lawmaker who left the Republican Party to become one of the nation’s few Libertarian state legislators is facing the political fight of her life against two Republicans challengers, including one backed by Gov. Pete Ricketts.
The showdown began after state Sen. Laura Ebke switched parties in 2016, citing concerns about the GOP governor’s public demands for more “platform Republicans” in the Legislature.
The race is one of the most closely watched in a Tuesday primary that will eliminate one of the three candidates for the seat and also determine party nominees for governor, U.S. Senate and Nebraska’s three U.S. House seats.
GOP officials have unleashed a wave of negative mail and radio ads against Ebke, of Crete, turning the small-town primary into one of the most hotly contested races in Nebraska. Ricketts, a multimillionaire, has donated $5,000 to one of her opponents, Al Riskowski, a longtime ally.
Ebke said she expected party officials to target her in the election and acknowledged they might succeed. Incumbents have traditionally fared well in Nebraska legislative races, but in 2016, three moderate Republican senators lost their seats after the governor endorsed and contributed to more conservative challengers. Ricketts said the senators were defeated because they didn’t reflect their conservative districts.
“I am fully aware that I’m in a precarious position here, especially when you have the financial power of the governor,” Ebke said.
Another Republican hopeful, Tom Brandt, said he jumped into the race in March out of frustration that lawmakers haven’t done more to address rising agricultural property taxes or provided additional state funding for rural schools. He said he’s relying on name recognition from his involvement with local farm, church and sports groups and his county GOP.
Brandt, a farmer from Plymouth, said he was surprised the race has turned so nasty and drawn so much attention from outside the district.