Ricketts and Hassebrook
It is just flat out hard to deny that the Nebraska Governor’s race is about the city mouse and the country mouse.
The gist of that story is how each of the mice viewed things differently when forced to cope with circumstances that were outside their familiar environment. It’s a lesson that Democrats will likely pursue in their effort to promote candidate Chuck Hassebrook in his race against Republican Pete Ricketts. And it’s not a bad approach to take in a state where Republicans dramatically outnumber Democrats.
It takes less than a handful of fingers to count the number of Democrat governors in the last 50 years and the most successful Democrats, Jim Exon and Ben Nelson, were Centrists. The two, along with fellow Democrat Bob Kerrey, also discovered the secret to winning big in populous Lincoln and Omaha as a way to victory. The game is playing your power base well and then picking up as many of the population centers as possible that dot the Platte River system from Scottsbluff to Columbus.
But the race this year is pitting small town born and reared Hassebrook, 59, against city born and reared Ricketts, 49.
Hassebrook was born in Platte Center, graduated from Central Community College and the University of Nebraska Lincoln and has lived in Lyons where he worked at the Center for Rural Affairs for 36 years -- 18 of those as executive director. He was also an 18-year member of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents. He was chair of that board for two terms.
Ricketts grew up in Omaha and graduated from the University of Chicago with an MBA in marketing and finance. He worked at Union Pacific Railroad in Omaha and then worked his way up the ladder at Ameritrade Inc. He is also chairman of the Platte Institute for Economic Research.
Rickett’s campaign refused an offer from Hassebrook to join in a pact to stop hidden donors from financing attack ads. The six-man Republican primary – won by Ricketts with just 26.5 percent of the vote – was one of the worst mud-slinging festivals in Nebraska history. Many of the attacks were against the No. 2 finisher, Attorney General Jon Bruning, whose campaign blamed Ricketts for the ads. Ricketts vehemently denied the accusation.
In turning down Hassebrook’s offer, the Ricketts campaign said the Democrats have already gone negative in tweets after the primary calling their candidate “Wall Street Pete.” The campaign also said Hassebrook has distorted Rickett’s record with regard to the family-owned Chicago Cubs of major league baseball. Ricketts is a director of the Cubs.
For his part, Hassebrook said Nebraskans told him of their dislike of what was termed one of the ugliest campaigns in recent history. He outlined his intentions to run a clean campaign, but admitted that no candidate can unilaterally disarm and survive.
An independent blogger wrote that Hassebrook’s dad took his son to a baseball game one time, while Rickett’s dad bought his sons a baseball team.
Ricketts chose incumbent Lt. Gov. Lavon Heidemann as his running mate and announced the choice early. Heidemann is a dairy farmer from Elk Creek and former state senator who chaired the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee.
Hassebrook, who recently chose Jane Raybould of Lincoln for a running mate, said Ricketts picked Heidemann because he needed somebody with an agricultural background and government experience.
Recent polling – interesting if not slightly premature – shows Hassebrook is within 4 percent of Ricketts in terms of people who say how they would cast their vote. Given that statewide campaigns rarely heat up until Labor Day, this year could be an exception.
Hold on to your executive leather chairs and your milking stools folks, this one could be a real doozy.
By J.L. Schmidt, Nebraska Press Association. First published in the Bulletin's July 2 print edition.