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In the wake of Falls City businessman Charles Herbster's departure Friday from the 2014 Republican gubernatorial contest, state Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha suddenly strode into the race.

As soon as Herbster announced he was discontinuing his campaign to concentrate on the needs of his wife, Judy, who is recovering from heart surgery, McCoy began phoning party leaders and activists to inform them of his candidacy.

That transition had been in the works for the past few days, ever since Herbster privately informed McCoy of his decision to abandon his own candidacy.

McCoy's entry into the volatile GOP contest "assures that the conservative cause will be best-served," said Kent Grisham, who quickly moved from campaign spokesman for Herbster into the same role with the McCoy campaign.

McCoy, 32, a small-business owner, was first elected to the Legislature in 2008.

As a state senator, he has become closely identified with Gov. Dave Heineman's policies and priorities. McCoy sponsored the governor's 2013 legislative tax package that would have eliminated the state income tax while wiping out a broad range of sales tax exemptions.

That legislation encountered strong opposition and ultimately prompted a comprehensive legislative study of Nebraska's tax policy that now is underway.

Grisham said McCoy will make a formal announcement of his candidacy next week.

McCoy's entry scrambles an already unsettled contest for the Republican nomination to succeed Heineman as governor and adds political drama to a 2014 legislative session that will include four senators who are seeking the governorship.

Sens. Charlie Janssen of Fremont and Tom Carlson of Holdrege already are in the GOP scrap. Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton recently announced her intention to join former University of Nebraska Regent Chuck Hassebrook of Lyons in the Democratic contest.

McCoy is not likely to be the final candidate to enter the Republican race.

Omaha investment businessman Pete Ricketts, the GOP's 2006 Senate nominee, already has moved near the starting gate. 

And others may follow. 

Omaha businessman Rex Fischer, an executive at HDR, the big Omaha engineering firm, and former Nebraska president for Qwest Communications, is considering the race.

State Auditor Mike Foley has not ruled it out yet.

Herbster pointed to his wife's well-being in announcing his departure.

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"Judy has suffered several complications and her recuperation will be a longer and more difficult process than we expected," Herbster said in a news release. 

Herbster said he lives by the mantra of "God, family, country," and "my love and biblical obligations to (my wife) require that I discontinue my campaign for the Nebraska governorship."

Although he will not be seeking office, he said, "I do not intend to be silent or uninvolved in Nebraska politics. 

"The conservative work that Gov. Dave Heineman has undertaken can only be seen as a beginning," he said.

Herbster had been expected to pour substantial personal financial resources into the gubernatorial contest. He hired Carlos Castillo, who managed Heineman's first successful 2006 gubernatorial campaign, as his campaign manager.

Castillo, who made his mark during the 2006 primary campaign when Heineman defeated Rep. Tom Osborne, Nebraska's legendary former football coach, for the Republican nomination, resigned as the governor's director of the state Department of Administrative Services to accept Herbster's offer.

Whether Castillo might move now into the position of McCoy's campaign manager is unsettled.

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

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Political reporter

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

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