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GOP Johanns Wins Neb. Gov. Primary

May 13, 1998 GMT

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ One-time front-runner Rep. Jon Christensen’s last-minute attacks in the Republican gubernatorial primary backfired Tuesday as Lincoln Mayor Mike Johanns easily won the nomination.

With 31 percent of precincts reporting, Johanns had 28,305 votes, or 43 percent of the vote. Christensen was ahead of State Auditor John Breslow by only 35 votes _ 18,685 to 18,650, both 28 percent. Two other candidates got 1 percent of the vote each.

Christensan faced a barrage of criticism from within his own party in the days leading up to the primary for a flier he mailed last week to thousands of potential voters.


The fliers said: ``When the local Lincoln cable company removed obscene and racist programming from its channels, incredibly, Mike Johanns stepped in and made the cable station put these shows back on the air. Johanns said the shows have `a right to be aired.‴

Johanns vehemently disputed the allegations. The 47-year-old father of two said he had tried to stop the public-access cable program _ which showed a man urinating _ but could not because it was protected by federal law.

Christensen, a 35-year-old fundamentalist Christian, stood by the flier, saying it would ``be a rallying cry for social conservatives.″

But Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska’s top Republican, broke his promise to remain neutral in the race, calling Christensen’s fliers ``trash″ and a ``gross distortion.″

``I’m disappointed in Jon Christensen,″ Hagel said. Without naming anyone, he urged Republicans to vote for the candidate who ran a campaign of which the party and state can be proud.

Two of Christensen’s Republican colleagues in Congress _ Reps. Doug Bereuter and Bill Barrett _ joined Hagel in slamming Christensen over the fliers.

Johanns welcomed the backlash. ``Thank you, Jon Christensen, for energizing my team with your shabby campaign tactics,″ he said. ``They are motivated and going to be out there in droves.″

Johanns, however, came in for some criticism himself. On Monday, he pulled a radio commercial less than seven hours after it debuted when Hagel complained that the ad did not distinguish between his criticism of Christensen and his general words of praise for Johanns.

Christensen appeared to be a shoo-in for the nomination when he announced his candidacy last fall, but Johanns emerged as a serious challenger in the five-way GOP field. Recent polls showed the two were in a dead heat, with each supported by a third of the voters.

The five Republicans seeking the nomination spent a total of $5.6 million, more than twice the previous state record for primary spending.

Leading the way was Breslow, who heads a chain of welding-supply stores. Breslow spent $3 million _ more than Christensen and Johanns combined _ with about $1.8 million coming from his own pocket.

The race for the Democratic nomination was much tamer, a lot less expensive and no where near as close.

Bill Hoppner _ the 48-year-old former chief of staff for Sens. Bob Kerrey and Jim Exon _ easily beat 50-year-old lawyer and former state legislator Jim McFarland and two little-known candidates. McFarland was an All-American football player at Nebraska and played in the NFL in the early 1970s.

With just 1 percent of precincts reporting, Hoppner had 71 percent of the votes cast to McFarland’s 28 percent.

In 1990, Hoppner lost the nomination by just 42 votes to Ben Nelson, who was declared the winner after two recounts. Nelson went on to win the general election and is finishing his second term. He is barred by state law from seeking re-election.

Meanwhile, four Democrats and five Republicans sought their parties’ nominations for Christensen’s Omaha-area House seat. Former local television news anchorman and ``Entertainment Tonight″ reporter Michael Scott won the Democratic nomination with 63 percent of the vote.

One of seven proposed constitutional amendments on Tuesday’s ballot asked Nebraska voters whether citizen-initiative and referendum petitions should be limited to one subject.

A state constitutional commission recommended the change to simplify ballot issues, but opponents said it would strip voters of their rights.

West Virginia also held primaries Tuesday, although there were no statewide races. The state’s three Democratic congressmen _ Alan Mollohan, Bob Wise, and Nick Rahall _ were easily renominated over token opposition. That amounts to re-election, since no Republicans are challenging them in the heavily Democratic state.