Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts sailed to a second term in Nebraska on Tuesday, prevailing over a Democratic state lawmaker who promised to govern as a centrist and reduce partisanship at the Capitol.
Republicans typically are favored in Nebraska, given the GOP's large voter registration edge, and Ricketts had reason to be optimistic with a five-to-one spending advantage and a series of television ads that touted his efforts to promote business locally and abroad.
"I'm grateful to the people of Nebraska for allowing us to continue the work on the foundation we've built," Ricketts said in an interview with The Associated Press after his victory. "I'm very excited to have this opportunity for the next four years, and I look forward to getting back to work."
His challenger, state Sen. Bob Krist, stressed his work to lower property taxes and promote nonpartisanship in an increasingly polarized Legislature. Krist was previously a Republican but often clashed with GOP leaders and changed his affiliation after announcing his run for governor. He briefly registered as an independent but joined the Democrats because it provided an easier path to qualify for the ballot.
In an interview after his loss, Krist told the AP that he was proud of his campaign and "laid it all on the line" in hopes of scoring a surprise upset. He said he doesn't believe Ricketts has worked hard enough to address rising property taxes, a major concern for farmers and ranchers. Ricketts disputed the allegation, pointing to several initiatives he has introduced over the last four years.
"Something has to be done," Krist said. "I think the citizens of Nebraska are about ready to put a (property tax) referendum on the ballot. I can only hope and pray this is a wakeup call for Pete Ricketts."
Krist said he still has faith in the Nebraska Democratic Party, despite his loss and what he described as a lack of support from national groups such as the Democratic Governors Association.
Ricketts was elected governor in 2014 after narrowly surviving a six-man GOP primary and easily defeating his Democratic opponent, Chuck Hassebrook. The former TD Ameritrade executive is the son of billionaire Joe Ricketts and a co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, one of Major League Baseball's most valuable franchises.
Ricketts has faced criticism for donating more than $190,000 of his own money to like-minded legislative candidates, including those who were trying to unseat fellow Republicans. He drew fire from Planned Parenthood of the Heartland for a budget that denies federal family-planning dollars to the group.
He also helped bankroll a petition drive to reinstate the death penalty after lawmakers abolished the punishment in 2015. Voters approved the measure in 2016, and in August, Nebraska executed its first death-row inmate in more than two decades.
Ricketts defended his donations to legislative candidates, but Krist said it's inappropriate for a sitting governor to try to influence those elections.
"I'm completely against someone throwing millions of dollars at campaigns that they have nothing to do with," Krist said. "You have to work to build consensus (in the Legislature). You can't buy your way of out of a problem."
Follow Grant Schulte on Twitter at https://twitter.com/GrantSchulte