OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts sailed to a second term in Nebraska on Tuesday, prevailing over a Democratic state lawmaker who promised to govern as a centrist and reduce partisanship at the Capitol.
Republicans typically are favored in Nebraska, given the GOP's large voter registration edge, and Ricketts had reason to be optimistic with a five-to-one spending advantage and a series of television ads that touted his efforts to promote business locally and abroad.
His challenger, state Sen. Bob Krist, stressed his work to lower property taxes and promote nonpartisanship in an increasingly polarized Legislature. Krist was previously a Republican but often clashed with GOP leaders and changed his affiliation after announcing his run for governor. He briefly registered as an independent but joined the Democrats because it provided an easier path to qualify for the ballot.
In his campaign for a second term, Ricketts has promised to keep pushing for lower taxes and limits on state spending.
"We want to continue building on the foundation we've established with regard to growing Nebraska," he said before the election.
Ricketts was elected governor in 2014 after narrowly surviving a six-man GOP primary and easily defeating his Democratic opponent, Chuck Hassebrook. The former TD Ameritrade executive is the son of billionaire Joe Ricketts and a co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, one of Major League Baseball's most valuable franchises.
Ricketts has faced criticism for donating more than $190,000 of his own money to like-minded legislative candidates, including those who were trying to unseat fellow Republicans. He drew fire from Planned Parenthood of the Heartland for a budget that denies federal family-planning dollars to the group.
He also helped bankroll a petition drive to reinstate the death penalty after lawmakers abolished the punishment in 2015. Voters approved the measure in 2016, and in August, Nebraska executed its first death-row inmate in more than two decades.
Ricketts defended his donations to legislative candidates, but Krist said it's inappropriate for a sitting governor to try to influence those elections.
"I'm completely against someone throwing millions of dollars at campaigns that they have nothing to do with," Krist said. "You have to work to build consensus (in the Legislature). You can't buy your way of out of a problem."