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Political reporter

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

Election aftermath, initial impressions.

The small voter turnout makes it more difficult to try to factor in what may lie ahead.

But the stage is set now for re-election bids by Gov. Pete Ricketts and Sen. Deb Fischer with strong, but probably underfunded, Democratic challengers Bob Krist and Jane Raybould in place and in pursuit.

The competitive 2nd District House race probably became more of a challenge for Democrats to win in November with Kara Eastman's victory over former Rep. Brad Ashford reshuffling the deck in the metropolitan Omaha district.

The likelihood now is that the district will become less of a funding priority for Democrats nationally as they decide where to target their resources in a focused drive to recapture the House, but let's wait and see.

The fact is that even Ashford probably would have started as an underdog in a rematch with Republican Rep. Don Bacon in November.

As one veteran of Omaha politics suggested on the telephone the other day, just try to imagine a more perfect political profile for Sarpy County than Bacon provides as a retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general in a politically conservative county that is home to Offutt Air Force Base.

Election results from 2016 hammer home that point: Ashford won Omaha and Douglas County by 9,000 votes; Bacon won the Sarpy County precincts by 12,000. 

The wild card in all of that is no one knows what the political climate will be in November. 

The country, and conceivably Donald Trump's presidency, could be in turmoil six months from now with every member of Congress on the hot seat and staring at what may finally be that looming moment of truth: country or party? 

And in some states and congressional districts: country or re-election?

It's impossible to say if that's where we're headed, or if we get there before Election Day.

Uncertainty is stalking this election. 

* * *

It's difficult to measure the meaning of legislative primary results because of those scant voter turnouts.

But it's clear that Sens. Laura Ebke of Crete and Merv Riepe of Ralston are in danger. And while Sen. Robert Clements of Elmwood ran ahead in his district, he received less than 50 percent of the primary vote.

Sen. Theresa Thibodeau of Omaha ran ahead in a three-person race, winning 52 percent of the vote. 

Way too early to try to measure the potential change in the 2019 Legislature based on those skimpy primary results. 

It looks like the governor will get to appoint two new senators with John Murante of Gretna already destined to be elected as state treasurer in November and Sen. Dan Watermeier of Syracuse running ahead in his Public Service Commission race, but there's not likely to be any fundamental change in the generally conservative representation in those districts. 

Steve Lathrop would return to the Legislature as a skilled and influential voice if he can maintain his primary election edge over Riepe in the 12th District, but the general election vote will be much larger and you can bet that Ricketts will be deeply engaged in an effort to block Lathrop's path back to the Capitol.

November will be a whole new do-over with an expanded voter base.

Meanwhile, it's probably important to remember that virtually everyone in the news media and the lobbying corps misjudged the impact of the 2014 legislative results when a number of winners who had been simply defined as conservative Republicans turned out to be open-minded and independent legislators not tied to party or dogma.

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Back to the high-profile gubernatorial and senatorial races.

Both Democratic nominees already have shaped strong messages and different visions in their challenges to Gov. Ricketts and Sen. Fischer. There are fundamental choices to be made.

If there's a wild card in the gubernatorial race, it's probably property taxes. They won't be on the ballot in the form of an initiative proposal now, but they are going to be part of the debate in the contest for governor.

And that discussion resonates most emotionally in western and central Nebraska's precincts. 

If a statewide petition drive to place Medicaid expansion on the November ballot is successful, the issue of access to health care suddenly could move into the discussion that lies ahead.  

At the beginning, the challenges for Bob Krist and Jane Raybould are steeply uphill in a state politically dominated by Republicans outside of Lincoln and Omaha. 

But both Democratic challengers are beginning to try to climb that hill.

Finishing up

* Democratic Sen. Cory Booker praises Republican Sen. Ben Sasse as "one of the most important emerging voices in our national dialogue" in advance of the Oct. 16 publication of Sasse's new book, "Them: Why We Hate Each Other — And How to Heal." 

* When will we choose kids' lives and safety over the NRA and its false argument that this is about the 2nd Amendment? No, it isn't.

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

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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