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Ricketts-backed legislative candidates have mixed results; 2 incumbents struggle

May 17, 2018 GMT

LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts’ backing proved no guarantee of success Tuesday for candidates seeking seats in the Nebraska Legislature.

Three candidates who got money or an endorsement from the state’s top Republican official were eliminated in the primary, while three others finished second in their races.

But four of the governor’s picks led the balloting in their districts, based on unofficial results.

They included State Sens. Robert Clements of Elmwood and Theresa Thibodeau of Omaha, who were appointed to their seats in 2017 and had not yet faced voters until Tuesday.

All 16 of the legislative incumbents survived the primary, but two face tough battles to hang on to their seats in November.

In District 32, State Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete, a Republican-turned-Libertarian, struggled against attack ads launched by the Nebraska Republican Party.

She came in well behind Plymouth farmer Tom Brandt, a Republican, while Al Riskowski of Martell, the candidate with Ricketts’ endorsement, was eliminated.

In District 12, incumbent Sen. Merv Riepe of Ralston trailed former Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, who is seeking a return to the Legislature after sitting out four years. Both advanced to the general election.

Riepe is among the candidates with the governor’s support who came in second.

The Ricketts-backed candidates who were eliminated, along with Riskowski, include former GOP official Joe Murray of Firth, who came in third in District 30, and farmer Shane Greckel of Bloomfield, who finished just out of the running in District 40.

The unofficial results of Tuesday’s voting set up 13 general election battles pitting Republicans against Democrats, along with one Republican-Libertarian matchup and a Republican-independent race.

Republicans now claim 18 of the 24 seats up for election.

In District 42, write-in candidate Judy Pederson of North Platte collected enough votes to earn a spot on the official ballot in November. She is challenging incumbent Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte.

She joins about a dozen women who will be on the ballot for the Legislature in the fall. Women currently fill four of the seats up for election.