OMAHA -- The Nebraska Republican Party mounted an all-out assault Saturday on the state's divided presidential electoral vote system, vowing to fight for a return to winner-take-all for the candidate who prevails statewide.

GOP State Chairman Mark Fahleson said the party intends to "hold our Republican state senators accountable" for their votes on a legislative bill that would wipe out the current system of awarding one electoral vote to the winner of each of the state's three congressional districts and the remaining two electoral votes to the statewide winner.

Thirty-four of the 49 senators in the non-partisan Legislature are registered Republicans.

Packets of information supporting the electoral vote bill, LB21, were distributed to members of the GOP state central committee after their unanimous approval of a resolution endorsing the change. Included in the packet was a sample letter that constituents can mail to their state senator urging enactment of the legislation.

Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, sponsor of the bill, told committee members that winner-take-all should be viewed more as an expression of "Nebraska unity."

Republicans have attempted to repeal the split-vote system before, but the effort acquired a sense of urgency this year after Barack Obama won metropolitan Omaha's 2nd District vote in 2008, denying Republican nominee John McCain one of Nebraska's five electoral votes.

The electoral vote issue headed the list of legislative priorities identified by Fahleson immediately after his re-election as party chairman by acclamation.

"We would not want to see Obama re-elected (in 2012) by one electoral vote in Omaha," McCoy warned.

Twice in the past, the Legislature passed legislation to return to the winner-take-all system, but both times those bills were vetoed by Democratic Gov. Ben Nelson.

Nebraska and Maine are the only two states that split their electoral votes.

Nelson is "priority numero uno" for Republicans, Fahleson said, looking ahead to 2012 when the Democratic senator faces re-election.

Three Republicans who want to replace Nelson in the Senate were on hand for the party gathering in advance of an inaugural dinner and dance honoring Gov. Dave Heineman at the Qwest Center.

Attorney General Jon Bruning told the GOP activists that "you can count on me" to be pro-life, supportive of 2nd Amendment gun rights, actively engaged in fighting illegal immigration and diligent in pursuing legal challenges to the constitutionality of the new health care reform law.

"Send me to Washington to cut the federal budget and right the ship," Bruning said.

Using Tea Party language, Pat Flynn of Schuyler referred to the U.S. Constitution, the Founding Fathers, faith and prayer while promising to help attempt to "reduce the scope of government in all areas of our lives."

Republican voters have the opportunity to choose between "leaders from the people and career politicians," he said.

State Treasurer Don Stenberg, who acknowledged that he is "quite likely" to enter the race, spoke informally with committee members.

Among other state legislative priorities listed by Fahleson were immigration reform -- "we should not give taxpayer-funded benefits to people who are in the country illegally" -- and reform of the Commission of Industrial Relations.

The committee halted its meeting briefly for a moment of silent prayer for Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and her family after being informed of the shooting in Tucson. 

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