Gov. Pete Ricketts and Sen. Deb Fischer won re-election Tuesday night, each laying claim to a second term with margins of victory largely constructed west of Lincoln and Omaha.

Democratic challengers Bob Krist and Jane Raybould were leading in both Lancaster and Douglas counties as election returns edged toward the midnight hour.

But as the vote count moved west, it became clear that this would be a red Republican night in Nebraska, with GOP nominees running the table in statewide contests and leading in all three House races.

Lincoln and Omaha voters, however, may have had their way on an initiative proposal to expand Medicaid coverage in Nebraska. 

That proposal was overwhelmingly approved in both Lancaster and Douglas counties, while nearly all counties west of the urban centers were voting in opposition to the plan and chipping away at the margin as the statewide vote count mounted.  

Ricketts, who transferred his private-sector values and experience to the operation of state government after he was elected in 2014, laid claim to a second four-year term by defeating Krist, who mounted an aggressive, but underfunded, challenge after changing political parties. 

In Omaha, the governor told a Republican Party victory gathering that "there's still a lot of work ahead of us" and property tax relief will be his highest priority during his second term.

"We've got four more years to address it," Ricketts said. 

Krist and his lieutenant governor running mate, Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, sent a thank-you e-mail to supporters for their help along "an amazing journey" and said "we wouldn't change this wild ride for anything and we owe it all to you."

Fischer, the Valentine rancher and former state senator, upended Raybould to snare her second six-year term and an accompanying opportunity to move up the ladder on the Senate's Republican leadership team.

"I promised you six years ago that I was going to go to Washington and I was going to develop relationships with Republicans and with Democrats and we were going to get results for this state and I kept my word," Fischer told a victory party in Lincoln.  

"I give you that same pledge tonight," she said. 

Raybould, a Lincoln City Council member, won Lincoln and was leading in Omaha. 

"Even in defeat, we have left a mark," Raybould told her own gathering in Lincoln. "We have moved the dial for our state."

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Democrats haven't won a Senate race in Nebraska since Ben Nelson gained re-election to a second term in 2006 by defeating Ricketts in his first bid for elective office. 

And they haven't even racked up competitive numbers in a governor's contest since Bill Hoppner garnered 46 percent of the vote in his loss to Republican nominee Mike Johanns in 1998, two decades ago. 

Krist was flirting with that number before the vote count began to roll in from the west. 

Ricketts, a former executive at TD Ameritrade, has governed with fiscal restraint and staunch opposition to any form of tax increase.

During his governorship, the rate of growth in state spending has plummeted by more than 90 percent.

Krist, an Omaha state senator for 10 years, changed his party registration from Republican to nonpartisan and ultimately to Democratic as he sought the best pathway to the general election ballot and a showdown with the governor. 

Election results

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

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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