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Shane Osborn
Nebraska State Treasurer Shane Osborn (AP File)

Shane Osborn is back in the mix.

After "a tough year" in which his marriage dissolved amidst a flurry of allegations by his wife, the divorce is final and Osborn believes he's been fully vindicated.

The fact that the court awarded him sole custody of the couple's three children speaks for itself, he says.

Osborn has shed the excess pounds he acquired during the personal turmoil and says he's in the rhythm now of caring for the three kids, who range in age from 2 to 12.

In September, Osborn announced he'll not be a candidate for re-election as state treasurer next year.

But his name already has popped up on the short list of possible Republican challengers to Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson in 2012.

Earlier this month, Rush Limbaugh touted Osborn while insisting that Nelson's then-impending rupture with pro-life supporters means he'll "either not run for re-election or he'll be defeated."

Limbaugh said: "There's a state treasurer in Nebraska, very popular named Shane Osborn (who's) already running against Nelson."

On the same day, Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund named Osborn and "any of the state's three Republican congressmen" as potential Senate challengers in 2012.

What about it, Shane?

"Sure, it's something that interests me, but three years is a long time from now," he says during an interview at a Starbucks.

"I can't focus on that right now. There are so many other variables. It's something I'll look at as time grows."

One of the variables is named Gov. Dave Heineman.

"If the governor gets in, that's a new ballgame," Osborn says. Game over for any other Republican prospects.

"Dave would be a great senator," Osborn says. "He's definitely in the driver's seat."

Heineman is a candidate for re-election in 2010. He's not mulling a Senate race now, but he hasn't ruled it out.

Speculation about a Senate contest three years down the road is unusual, but it has reached the front burner now because of political fallout from Nelson's decision to support Democratic health care reform legislation.

Osborn opposes the health care bill, but his concerns are broader than that.

"We can't sustain what we're doing economically in terms of spending and budget deficits," he says.

"I'm a fiscal conservative. And I'm a social conservative."

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If one political concept defines his philosophy, Osborn says, it would be "personal liberty."

Osborn says he's also committed to protecting national security in a dangerous world.

That's a world in which he has a unique perspective.

Osborn briefly gained celebrity status in 2001 when he piloted a crippled Navy surveilliance aircraft and its 23-member crew to a safe landing on a Chinese island. They were held captive for 12 days.

In 2006, Osborn was elected state treasurer.

Congress "conducted business in a shameful way behind closed doors" as it fashioned health care reform legislation this year, Osborn says.

"The one silver bullet to help people trust government is transparency," he says.

Osborn has championed state government transparency as state treasurer. He's also set records in returning unclaimed property to Nebraskans.

And, he says, he's delivered as a fiscal conservative, reducing the treasurer's budget by 12.8 percent since he took office while increasing service to Nebraskans through modernized technology.

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

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