Let the posturing begin! With the 2012 election barely over, the buzz among the pundits -- inside and outside the Capitol -- is all about the 2014 gubernatorial contest.
Incumbent Republican Dave Heineman is term-limited. He has already said he supports his popular Lieutenant Governor, Rick Sheehy. But let's remember how fickle such "early" endorsements can be. The governor picked a successor state senator in District 2 last year only to throw him under the bus by encouraging the husband of his policy research head to run for the office and then throwing financial support and lip service toward the challenger who won.
State Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, the popular speaker of the legislature, had announced but then withdrew after his wife, Mandi, was diagnosed with breast cancer. He said he needs to focus on being with his family right now and help his wife make a 100 percent recovery. Flood had led the charge to scuttle some of the governor's vetoes during the last session of the Legislature and apparently raised Heineman's ire.
Imagine lawmakers acting like they are a separate branch of government from the executive. It's been awhile, but kudos to Flood, who has also been touted as the master of compromise on some controversial issues.
Sheehy, 51, has traveled the state continually over the last few years, without a security detail or driver, and has run a Camry into the ground and is working on upwards of 300,000 miles on an Altima. A former Mayor of Hastings and a former Democrat, he is apparently well-liked in various political circles. He is a quick study who can grasp difficult issues and develop a convincing banter either for or against with ease ... and stick to the message. He is puppy-dog-likeable, which often seems to play better with voters than a staunch stand on issues.
Flood, a 37-year-old radio station owner and attorney, was the first of what could be many other GOP candidates. Notice how the Republicans flock to the high profile races while the Democrats are scrambling to find a viable candidate? Names such as Fremont State Senator Charlie Janssen, Attorney General Jon Bruning and perennial -- "I wanna be something other than what I am" -- candidate State Treasurer Don Stenberg may also get in this race.
It's not yet clear if Stenberg will view himself as a spoiler in this race based on his proven success in the Republican U.S. Senate primary where political observers noted that he drew enough votes to allow eventual winner Deb Fischer to defeat Bruning who was once seen as the frontrunner.
Surprisingly, the Democrats could have as many as three early contenders for governor: State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler and University of Nebraska Regent Chuck Hassebrook of Lyons have all been mentioned.
Lathrop and Hassebrook are seen as logical choices while Beutler could be a long shot at best. Lathrop and Hassebrook both toyed with the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat while the eventual candidate, former Senator and Governor Bob Kerrey, tried to make up his mind. Lathrop stepped aside and Hassebrook gave up his University of Nebraska Regent seat and stepped up to run. After Hassebrook's name was on the ballot and there was no turning back, Kerrey declared his candidacy.
The head of the Center for Rural Affairs, Hassebrook, backed off. One could say that the Democratic Party owes Chuck Hassebrook, but he'd be the last person to claim that. If he does run, he'll draw from a rural and statewide base that has benefitted from the policies and programs fostered by the popular CFRA for decades. Lathrop is more of a "big city" politician who finds his comfort in partisan areas of Omaha and brokering deals to benefit his specific constituents. But political observers say he would be a viable statewide candidate. They also think Beutler has his hands full with a new sports and entertainment arena and other pressing issues in the Capital City that could keep him out of the mix.
Any way you slice it, game on!