Willie Nelson should have been there.

"You are always on my mind" is a signature song for Willie and the perfect refrain for a meeting of the Nebraska Republican Party, which has become laser-focused this year on another Nelson named Ben.

Four 2012 GOP Senate candidates strutted their stuff at a gathering of the Republican state central committee in Lincoln on Saturday and three of them zeroed in on the Democratic senator who faces re-election next year.

All four candidates called for federal spending cuts, budget deficit reduction, deregulation and repeal of the national health care reform law enacted during the Obama administration.

And all four resisted taking swipes at one another.

In separate action, the committee approved a resolution that would deny party support to any Republican state senator who fails to support legislation returning Nebraska to a winner-take-all presidential electoral vote system. 

An ancillary effect of that action, primarily designed to wipe out any Democratic opportunity to pick up the 2nd Congressional District electoral vote for the second presidential election in a row, could be depression of Democratic activity in the Omaha district to Nelson's disadvantage. 

State Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine, one of five candidates vying for the Republican Senate nomination, said Nelson no longer represents the views and wishes of Nebraskans.

"He's not listening to us," she said. "We need change. We can't allow this to continue."

Attorney General Jon Bruning said a ballooning national debt is "our greatest threat and Ben Nelson doesn't get it."

Nelson and his Democratic colleagues are "spending us right off the cliff," Bruning said.

State Treasurer Don Stenberg said Nelson's vote for "federal takeover of health care" is the strongest evidence that he is out of touch with his constituents.

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"We need to throw out (those) who raise our taxes to pay for their wasteful programs," Stenberg said.

Schuyler businessman Pat Flynn said he would like to dramatically shrink the federal government. He would eliminate the Department of Education and the Department of Energy, he said, and he'd advocate for huge cuts in U.S. financial support for the United Nations.

Flynn said Republicans should have "backed (President Barack) Obama against the wall" on spending cuts by refusing to raise the federal debt ceiling while denying him authority to default on U.S. financial obligations. That would have forced dramatic spending cuts, he said.

The electoral vote resolution, approved by voice vote, reflects longtime party policy, but it has become particularly significant for the GOP since Obama won the 2nd District vote in 2008, denying Republicans their accustomed sweep of Nebraska's five electoral votes. 

Under current law, three of the five votes are awarded to the winner in each congressional district. Winner-take-all would return Nebraska to its earlier system of awarding all five votes to the statewide popular vote winner.

Reach Don Walton at 402-473-7248 or at dwalton@journalstar.com.

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