Election 2020 Nebraska Senate Debate
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — After months of bickering, accusations and apologies, Nebraska Democrats again named their candidate for U.S. Senate Thursday, and to no one’s surprise, he isn't the Democrat on the ballot.
Omaha activist and professor Preston Love Jr. is the Democrats' third choice to compete against Omaha baker and fellow Democrat Chris Janicek, who won the primary and is on the ballot against Republican Sen. Ben Sasse. Love will have to compete as a write-in candidate because Janicek is pledging to stay in the race as the official nominee despite pressure from party leaders to drop out after he sent lewd texts about a campaign staffer.
Love agreed to run after the Democrats' initial write-in candidate, former U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford, dropped out just days after announcing his bid. The state party's first choice, Omaha mental health practitioner Alisha Shelton, is prohibited from running as a write-in candidate under Nebraska's “sore loser” law because she lost to Janicek in the primary.
Love said he is realistic about his chances against an incumbent when joining the race less than two months before Election Day, but he said he hopes his candidacy will boost voter turnout in Omaha and help other Democratic candidates.
“It’s a hard narrative to develop a win scenario. But I am going to run as if I had all the money that I need and all the Love that I need and that we give people an alternative,” Love said.
Party leaders can’t remove Janicek’s name from the ballot without his consent, and the deadline to do that has passed.
The contract staffer he wrote about was accidentally included in Janicek’s message and filed a complaint with the party. Janicek has said he apologized to the woman in a phone call, in person, and in writing, and that she accepted his apology. The woman has disputed Janicek’s account, saying she doesn’t accept his apology and maintains that he should drop out.
Sasse was always heavily favored to win in November in GOP-dominated Nebraska. Democrats make up just 29% of registered voters and haven't won a statewide election in more than a decade.
“Democrats in Nebraska running for statewide office have an uphill battle on a good day,” former Nebraska Democratic Party executive director Paul Landow said.
This Senate race will make it harder for Democrats to become competitive again in the state.
“In the short term, it makes it more difficult to win the Senate race. In the long term, it makes it more difficult to recruit candidates in general,” said Landow, who is now a political science professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
One of Democrats' last significant victories in the state came in 2008 when Barack Obama won the Omaha-based congressional district and secured a single Electoral College vote in his bid for president under Nebraska's unusual system. Before that, Democrat Ben Nelson served two terms as governor in the 1990s and was twice elected to the U.S. Senate and Bob Kerrey was elected governor and to the U.S. Senate in the 1980s and 1990s.
Janicek's campaign isn't receiving any support from the Democratic Party. Chairwoman Jane Kleeb said Thursday that Love offers voters a better option than either Sasse or Janicek.
Love is a University of Nebraska-Omaha professor who teaches Black studies and politics. He also is a longtime activist in northeastern Omaha, and he led the Black Votes Matter nonprofit in Omaha encouraging more people to vote.
Janicek ran for Senate in 2018, but lost in the Democratic primary. He said he chose to run after having a heart attack in 2015 and getting slapped with more than $100,000 in medical bills that his insurance only partially covered.