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Omaha state Sen. Bob Krist talks about his independent candidacy for governor as his wife Peggy looks on at a press conference in the Capitol Rotunda on Sept. 13.

State Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha has set the stage for a formal announcement Tuesday that he has decided to seek the governorship as a Democratic challenger to Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Krist changed his voter registration in Douglas County to Democratic on Monday morning and made plans to file as a Democratic candidate with the secretary of state's office.

Krist will be joined by Mayor Chris Beutler at a news conference in Lincoln on Tuesday. 

A number of current and former state senators will also be on hand at the noon-hour event at FUSE Coworking in the Haymarket.

Beutler, a Democrat, is a former state senator who is serving his third term as Lincoln's nonpartisan mayor. He was a Democratic candidate for governor in 1986 and his presence is designed to help welcome Krist into the party.

Krist, formerly a Republican, has encountered statutory barriers in his bid to mount an independent challenge to Ricketts without attempting to confront an incumbent governor in his own party's primary election.

His preferred route had been to gain access to the November ballot as a nonpartisan and essentially independent candidate, but that avenue would require him to gather an estimated 121,000 signatures on petitions circulated statewide.  

Krist has gone to federal court to challenge the 2017 law that sharply increased the number of signatures required from about 4,000, a far-more-manageable number. 

With that avenue effectively blocked by the expensive and time-consuming barrier of attempting to gather a huge number of signatures statewide, Krist had changed his voter registration from Republican to nonpartisan and was focused on the alternative route of forming a new political party and attempting to build a new political base.

"I want to find the best pathway to challenge Gov. Ricketts," Krist said during a news conference at the Capitol announcing the court challenge 11 days ago.

"Don't count me out," he said. "I'm going to find a pathway to success."

Moving to the Democratic Party will place his name on the May 15 primary ballot and instantly mark him as the best-known Democratic gubernatorial candidate thus far in the race.

Vanessa Ward, a North Omaha community activist, and Tyler Davis, a small-business entrepreneur and instructor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, have filed as Democratic candidates.

Krist's decision attracted immediate fire from the Nebraska Republican Party, which said the Democratic Party is "the best fit for him."

"When Bob Krist is willing to say and do anything to advance his own career, how could voters ever trust him?" Republican National Committeeman J.L. Spray said.

The GOP said Krist has "one of the most liberal voting records in the Nebraska Legislature," and pointed to votes to increase Nebraska's gas tax and repeal the death penalty.

"Krist has consistently supported giving taxpayer-funded benefits to illegal immigrants," the party stated. 

Krist was appointed to a seat in the nonpartisan Legislature by former Gov. Dave Heineman in 2009 and since has been elected to two four-year terms. He will be term-limited out of the Legislature at the end of the year. 

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On Twitter @LJSDon.


Political reporter

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

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