Monday, November 21, 2005

How Close is Heineman?

by Kyle Michaelis

From the following Omaha World-Herald article, it's clear the Nebraska press is hoping for a real race in the 2006 Republican gubernatorial primary. Gov. Dave Heineman is presented as the consummate underdog winning people over with hard work and a flawless political game plan. Meanwhile, Congressman/Coaching legend Tom Osborne is portrayed as aloof and as losing his grip on Nebraska voters.

There's just one problem with this whole proposition - where's the proof? The article is so patently one-sided that one can't help but wonder if it's reporting reality or attempting to create it:
When former Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne announced his candidacy for governor in late April, few thought his opponents - including new Gov. Dave Heineman - had a chance.

What a difference six months on the campaign trail can make. All three Republican candidates and about a dozen party regulars and political observers interviewed say the 2006 primary race has tightened and will be competitive.

"I think he's (Osborne) ahead . . . but I think Heineman is making it difficult for him by really doing a lot of things right," said John Hibbing, political science professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln....

Osborne won his last election to Congress with 87 percent of the vote. Heineman was viewed as an accidental governor - the lieutenant governor who got promoted when then-Gov. Mike Johanns became U.S. agriculture secretary....

Heineman has always believed he had a credible chance. He has maintained from the start that as Nebraskans get to know him better, they will have a tough time ousting him from office.

"We've always said this race was going to be about a governor who was doing an outstanding job, and why should we change (governors)," said Carlos Castillo, the governor's campaign spokesman.

David Nabity, the third candidate in the GOP race, said he believes there has been a "sea shift" in the race and that Osborne is no longer the presumed winner-to-be. Nabity said the race is up for grabs because most voters have yet to tune in.

"It's definitely a whole different world today than it was back in May," Nabity said.

What has changed?

First, Heineman is working hard to keep his job, using the power of incumbency to the fullest.

Second, Osborne is trapped in Washington four days a week, working on congressional business. The former coach also made some decisions and comments that have hindered his campaign.

Heineman travels widely, cutting ribbons and attending chamber of commerce dinners. He averages about 17 public appearances a week....

Heineman earned the gratitude of many small-town Nebraskans when he vetoed a bill to force smaller rural schools to consolidate. He scored political points in the Republican-rich areas of Millard and Elkhorn by opposing the Omaha school district's effort to gain control of some suburban schools.

Finally, Heineman made a good impression with some farmers - especially those who grow Great Northern beans - by going to Cuba and returning with a $30 million trade deal for Nebraska farm products....

In turn, Osborne has made what some consider political missteps.

Early on, he said he was "90 percent certain" he would run for only one term. Some questioned whether a one-term governor could make significant changes. Nabity quickly capitalized on the remark, saying Nebraskans deserved a governor who would commit to two terms....

Osborne since has said he was trying to emphasize that he won't spend his first term worrying about re-election. "My feeling is that I'm certainly very willing to serve two terms," Osborne said....

He hindered his fundraising ability with self-imposed limits: He will not accept political action committee money or a donation of more than $1,000 from an individual.

Heineman has no such limits and appears likely to lead the fundraising game early next year. That will become critical in the spring, when the campaign becomes more focused on expensive television ad wars....

(Osborne) said he continues to believe, especially since going to Washington, that campaign donations from special interests are a major problem in politics.

"I've seen legislation that should have passed be stopped, because of special interests, and I've seen some legislation pass that should not have passed, because of special interests," Osborne said.

He faces other hurdles. Some voters in the heavily Republican 3rd Congressional District are disappointed that he is giving up his growing seniority in the U.S. House.

"Personally, I think the feeling out here is that Osborne is well thought of because of his history in the state. But I think they're disappointed they sent him to Washington and now Mr. Smith wants to come home," said Terry Christopher, a former county GOP chairman from Sidney....

Other Republicans take exception to Osborne's decision to challenge a sitting Republican governor.

Some hard-core Republicans also have voiced doubts about Osborne's commitment to GOP values..."Osborne is so independent in his thinking that dyed-in-the-wool Republicans don't know what to make of him," Christopher said.

And others insist that no one - not even famous and beloved football coaches - should take a vote for granted.

"It's easier to want to vote for Tom Osborne because of his reputation, but it should come down to who's best for the job," said Lee Schuppan, a Doniphan businessman, who remains undecided.

Quite a hatchet job, if I might say so myself. Nary a kind word about Osborne and not a single criticism of Heineman - isn't that just a little bit suspicious?

"Mr. Smith wants to come home"??? Holding Osborne's desire to return to Nebraska and get out of the mess that is this Republican Congress can hardly be held against him. The suggestion that Osborne is "SO INDEPENDENT" is similarly ludicrous and is not reflected in the slightest by Osborne's voting record.

Moreover, Heineman's unconstructive exploitation of the Omaha and Class I school district issues has demonstrated anything but responsible leadership, and it's silly to act as if it has. On the other hand, I'd say if Osborne has made a mis-step it is in his disingenuous attack on Heineman for not pushing through a tax cut in 2005. But, that involves real issues, and I guess the World-Herald doesn't want to touch on those.

And, all the while, the self-interested Nabity tags along getting his name out there any way he can - making it all the sadder that a similarly-dedicated Democratic candidate hasn't emerged to offer a REAL alternative to Tweedles Dee, Dum, and Dummer.

How close is Heineman? I don't know, but this is not yet anywhere close to the even race you'd expect from this article.

While true that voters aren't yet paying a lot of attention to the election, they also haven't paid much attention to Heineman in general. If he's going to impress (or alienate), it's going to be in next year's legislative session and in debates. Until then, voters have no stake in the guy and can be assumed to support Dr. Tom no matter how adept Heineman is with a giant scissors.

Then again, the Cornhusker football team ended up disappointing once again this year, so the race is still up-for-grabs.


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