Bob Krist on the road.

And in the air, piloting a turbo-prop aircraft west to Scottsbluff at more than 300 miles an hour ground speed one morning last week.

That's a gubernatorial campaign off to a flying start.

A retired U.S. Air Force officer who has logged more than 15,000 hours airborne and piloted more than 30 different aircraft, Krist has served in the Legislature for nine years.

In Lincoln, the Omaha senator has been a voice, a force and a factor, an independent senator who was stripped of his leadership position on the first day of the 2017 legislative session when conservative Republican members of the non-partisan Legislature banded together to elect a slate of conservative leaders and committee chairpersons.

Krist has changed his voter registration from Republican to nonpartisan and will form a new political party next year to serve as a vehicle for gaining a spot on the 2018 general election ballot as a gubernatorial nominee challenging Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts and the Democratic nominee.

Tough task, steeply uphill.

Name recognition may be the first obstacle to overcome.

Despite their key role in determining or shaping state policy or programs that affect all Nebraskans, state senators are not well-known outside their districts. Except for one, and that senator is known by his first name: Ernie.

So, last week, Krist began to tackle that challenge. Fundraising will be a huge hurdle to follow.  

And then attracting votes away from the two established political parties will be a unique challenge, although the Krist campaign has polling results that suggest Nebraskans are open to an independent bid. 

Defeating an incumbent governor who is a Republican armed with all the campaign resources he will need in a state where GOP nominees have been winning big in the premier statewide races for the last 16 years will be the ultimate test.

Krist headed down that road last week, soaring through a bright blue October sky across the storied Sandhills and on to Scottsbluff to begin his year-long journey out west.

* * *

The results of a survey of Nebraska high school students about the best role for the United States to play in this changing world are in and they are sharply divided.

Students who participated in the 19th annual Capitol Forum on America's Future were asked to choose the most appropriate U.S. role in dealing with foreign policy issues like immigration, environment, terrorism, poverty and human rights.

The results may reflect today's political division and perhaps project the future:

* 34 percent preferred a foreign policy that focuses on international cooperation through diplomacy, treaties, trade and U.S. leadership at the United Nations in dealing with security and global issues.

* 33 percent advocated for a policy that would reduce foreign involvement and primarily deal with the internal challenges in the United States.

* 21 percent supported a policy that focuses on homeland security, halting the spread of nuclear weapons, cultivating key trade relationships and ensuring access to crucial raw materials.

* 12 percent favored a policy calling for the United States to build a vibrant international economy that strengthens democracy abroad.

Broadly speaking, that represents a sharp division between international engagement and withdrawal.

The annual forum is sponsored by Humanities Nebraska and Secretary of State John Gale.

Finishing up:

* Scott Pruitt, we hardly knew ye. In and out of town last week with no advance notice and no newspaper access. Does EPA mean evade press attention?

* Todd Ricketts, the governor's brother, is on the short list of prospects for new president of the Heritage Foundation, according to The Washington Post. The position would give the Ricketts family "even greater influence in helping to shape the direction of the Republican Party and the conservative movement," the Post article suggested.

* Bob Krist's name recognition challenge is hardly unique: When Ben Nelson launched his first gubernatorial campaign in advance of the 1990 election, he joked that he was a household name in only one household in Nebraska. 

* Better start making room in Memorial Stadium for the kids, the future fan base of Husker football. Otherwise, they're going to grow up watching the Huskers on TV and there they will stay. 

* After years of carefully cultivated silence, how about that W? George W. Bush was uniquely positioned as the former Republican president to sound the alarm about the "casual cruelty" and coarseness that emanates from Washington today while urging America to "recover our own identity."

* Those who know the newest state senator, Theresa Thibodeau of Omaha, say she will hit the ground running. 

* Andrew Northwall, a  Republican activist who applied for the Omaha legislative vacancy filled by the governor's appointment of Thibodeau, reacted by tweeting that he's "still undecided on running" for the legislative seat next year.

* Colby Coash is scheduled to be one of the former or current state senators who will release a new report at a Washington news conference detailing a significant increase in Republican state legislators who oppose the death penalty.

* Any year that the Yanks go deep into October is a good baseball year.

* Why does every recent big Husker game begin with Lucy teeing up the football?  

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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