The Lakers Disaster & The State of Nebraska Democrats

The last couple of days on the show we’ve spent a lot of time discussing Mark Lakers’ decision to exit the Nebraska Gubernatorial Race, why it happened, and the aftermath thereof.  Before we get too far into this discussion we should point out that we feel pretty strongly that having a robust contest between the parties for the Governor’s office is in the best interests of all Nebraskans, regardless of their current opinion of Governor Dave Heineman’s job performance.  In fact, the Governor himself said as much when we visited with him just before Lakers joined the race.  Unfortunately, we’ve been denied that to this point in the race as Lakers showed an inability to get out in front of the issues and actually develop a plan of attack that drove dialog about the best interests of the state  (that’s to say nothing of his inability to keep track of his donors).

Also, while Nebraska is certainly a very “red” state, keep in mind the inroads Democrats have made in the last few years in both Federal elections and the footholds they’ve had locally in Lincoln and Omaha.  If I’m a Nebraska Democrat, I’d have been looking to build greatly from that momentum in upcoming state races, but it seems the result has been the exact opposite.

All of that said, the Democrats’ next move in this race is of great interest.  Thus, on Tuesday we spoke with Joe Jordan of Nebraska Watchdog (full audio here) and he speculated that Douglas County Commissioner and former Omaha Mayor Mike Boyle may be the  Dems’ most likely candidate, if they name one at all.  Well, it turns out Boyle isn’t interested.  That may be for the best if you’re a Nebraska Democrat as Boyle’s name recognition is very marginal outside of Omaha, and there’s also that pesky Mayoral recall election of 1987 in his past.

But is there anyone with more name recognition than Boyle out there in today’s Democratic Party?  Is there anyone who can make this 100 day campaign look remotely worth watching?  Vic Covalt, state chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party thinks so, and he indicated to us today that the party will certainly find someone more than adequate to fill Lakers’ void (audio here).

Right now the State Democrats have a serious problem with recognizability of potential candidates.  While Republicans have their party superstars in existing state offices, often uncontested for those positions (Bruning, Foley, Osborn, Fulton, perhaps Stenberg), they’ve also developed a reputation for candidates and campaigns that are more accessible, less guarded, and have developed better working relationships with media around the state.  Because the Democrats haven’t developed this ‘farm system’ of recognizable talent, they’re now in a position where we have a hard time even coming up with one Democratic name that would make sense to take a shot at the Governor’s seat, where we could probably think of 5-10 Republican names who could have a shot in the post-Dave era.

So where do you turn if you’re the Nebraska Democrats?  Frankly, if I were the State Chair, I’d put a call into Chris Beutler, even though it’d be a massive hailmary.  Beutler seems to have increased his popularity substantially in Lincoln after a close election victory to put him in office, he’s got executive experience, and he’s got extensive, extensive experience in state government.   While Beutler himself almost certainly wouldn’t answer that call (perhaps he would in 2014?), he fits the mold of the visibility/name-recognition/experience formula that’s led to Republican dominance.   I’m not sure anyone else does.  Regent  Chuck Hassebroek is an unknown.  The Legislature doesn’t offer a lot of options as Tom White is busy,  and Conrad/McGill/Mello are still too green (and two have re-election battles right now),  but the Dems may do well to start investing in those names right now for the future.  What about Steve Lathrop?  He not only has recognizability as a respected State Senator, but he’s also got some additional visibility in Lincoln and Omaha as you’ll occasionally see him in TV commercials for his practice.  Further, Lathrop’s already got an ongoing dialog with the Governor though their dealings in the last several legislative sessions, and one would think that his words would engender a response from the Governor simply by virtue of their previous work together.

With all of that in mind, I’d guess that this idea has been floated to Lathrop before and he’s declined in favor of his lucrative career.  Perhaps a short campaign will be more palatable, however, to Lathrop.  Let’s hope the Democrats make the call because a one-candidate race or something that looks like a one-candidate race isn’t in any of our best interests.

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