Who is it?
Who were the runners-up and also-rans?
Well here ya go!
LEAVENWORTH STREET NEBRASKA POLITICIAN OF THE YEAR!
In the span of ten months, Governor Dave Heineman went from seat warmer for the Osborne for Governor brigade, to the most powerful, influential and popular politco in the state. He replaces U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel as the dean of state GOP and has the mandate to do whatever he wants as Governor. During the general election, Heineman selflessly put himself second to helping other GOP candidates get elected. Heineman will dominate the Nebraska political scene for the next eight years. His triumph over King Osborne and his romp in the general election, along with his rise from party loyalist to top of the heap makes Governor Dave our Politico of the Year.
If Heineman was our first choice, State Senator Ernie Chambers would be choice 1A (the smoke was thick in the back room, as these two top choices were hashed out). Ernie’s ongoing swan song as his thirty-five years at the Unicameral in Lincoln come to a close in 2008 (being pushed out) is a doozey: the partitioning of the Omaha school districts, essentially based on race, was a masterful political move in the legislature, became the story of the year, was one of the top two issues of the Governor’s campaign primary, became a national story and ended up pitting Democrats against Democrats, Republicans against Republicans, liberals against liberals, and any other mish-mash of ideologies you’d like to throw out. In the center of it all was Chambers, who likely has more chess moves to make, but will eventually let others sort out all the ramifications. Ernie doesn’t get mad, he gets even (just ask Councilman Dan Welch). And after thirty-five years you could argue that he saved one of his biggest political moves for last.
OTHER NEBRASKA POLITICOS WHO MADE 2006 THE YEAR IT WAS…
BEHIND THE SCENES
As campaign manager during Dave Heineman’s meteoric rise, Castillo wasn’t Karl Rove – Heineman himself gets as much credit as anyone. But he implemented the plan, did a masterful job of keeping the things running smoothly and hit Tom Osborne where he was vulnerable – particularly with the turning point of the immigration debate. Castillo did a great job of pounding home the campaign message during the primary: “Heineman is the true Republican in the race.” (He also knew how to keep things low-key, in order to wallop Dave Hahn in the general.)
Lou Ann Linehan
You can’t have a discussion about political masters without mentioning LouAnn Linehan. She’s been a force in Nebraska politics for two decades now. In 2006, many called Linehan Pete Rickett’s shadow campaign manager, making the Senate race a modified Nelson-Hagel redux. During her hiatus from her job as Chuck Hagel’s Chief of Staff, she ran the state party as an arm of the Ricketts campaign, and blasted away at Nelson. She hand-picked Jessica Moenning to be Ricketts’ manager, and lined up the same consultants as Hagel. And given the results, she now gets plenty of the blame for everything that happened…
THE 800 POUND GORILLAS
After the huge victory of endorsing Heineman over Osborne, Hagel likely took his perceived Midas-touch a little too far. His pursuit of defeating Ben Nelson with Pete Ricketts, while taking state party resources away from other races, and criticizing Nebraskans and Nebraska companies in the process, has left a bad taste in the mouth of many in the party. He is still a formidable presence in the Nebraska GOP, but one has to think his criticism of the President, among other things, has put him in disfavor with party loyalists and may bring him a primary-challenge if he decides to run for re-election in 2008. At this point the question is Whither Chuck Hagel?
Nelson’s gigantic election victory has meant good things – for Ben Nelson. However the implications of Nelson’s victory with the complete lack of any assistance to any Democratic candidates (in stark contrast to Dave Heineman) or any resulting coattails shows that the only way a Democrat can win in Nebraska is to run as a Republican. After a brief resurgence, today the Nebraska Democratic Party is impotent.
Pete’s massive ad buys on television vaulted this newcomer onto the political scene. He defeated two more seasoned politicos in the primary with a conservative message and a selling point: I have the money to beat Ben Nelson. However, having the ability to be on more TVs than Alex Trebek, Ricketts’ campaign showed that that without a clear message, name ID gets you nowhere.
POLS WHOSE STAR BURNED BRIGHT BRIEFLY BEFORE BEING SNUFFED OUT
Something happened on the way to the coronation; Osborne was given the rude awakening that disdain for party politics won’t win you a party primary.
The fact that Kleeb’s campaign forced the President of the United States to fly in to defend his turf merits mention. But in the end, losing by ten points in the Year of the Democrats is like losing by twenty points in any other year.
Losing TWO statewide races in a single year? That’s gotta put her on the list…
Thanks to everyone who contributed nominations and comments!
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