In Nebraska, a U.S. senator stands as much chance of dying in office as being ousted by voters, if the past 100 years are any indication.
Since 1912, Nebraska voters have given the boot to only five senators — the same number that died in office.
Such low turnover and Nebraska's tradition of leaning Republican underscore the importance of tuning in now to next month's GOP primary.
The winner of the May 15 contest stands a good chance of representing Nebraska in Congress for as long as he or she likes, if that person can defeat Democrat Bob Kerrey in November's general election.
Attorney General Jon Bruning, State Treasurer Don Stenberg and State Sen. Deb Fischer are entering the final weeks of the Republican campaign.
Tuesday, for the last time, the three will go toe-to-toe on the issues in a debate sponsored by The World-Herald. The 7 p.m. event can be watched live on NET (Cox Cablevision's Channel 12) or on Omaha.com.
“It is important. It does matter. The stakes are high,” said Tim Hill, a political scientist at Doane College in Crete, Neb.
The last elected U.S. senator to be defeated in Nebraska was George Norris in 1942. David Karnes — appointed to fill out the term of Edward Zorinsky, who died in office — lost his first bid for election to the Senate in 1988.
Primaries rarely generate as much excitement as general elections, especially presidential elections. Turnout is typically lower.
In 2008, only 23 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the May primary, compared with 72 percent in the fall.
Republican Race for the Senate: An Omaha World-Herald Debate
GOP Senate candidates Deb Fischer, Jon Bruning and Don Stenberg will come together for a debate in Omaha at 7 p.m. on May 1.
Watch live on NET TV and Omaha.com, and follow along with updates in a live chat on Omaha.com. Click here to set a chat reminder.
To submit a question for consideration, send an email to Robynn.Tysver@owh.com.
Many independent voters have trouble identifying with primaries, in part because they serve as party elections. Republicans choose their nominees, and Democrats theirs.
However, Nebraska independents have the option in primaries of selecting either a GOP or Democratic ballot for federal races. Most, however, don't know to ask.
“They only get to pick one. You can't vote on the Republican House race and the Democratic Senate (race),” said Dave Phipps, Douglas County election commissioner.
Another reason for diminished interest in primaries is that voters often have trouble distinguishing among a party's candidates. Often, as is the case with the current GOP candidates, they hold similar positions on key issues.
That makes it harder for voters to choose, Hill said.
Still, the race is important. Republicans hold a considerable advantage in Nebraska: 48 percent of registered voters, compared with 32 percent who are Democrats and 19 percent who are independents.
The reality remains that the winner of the GOP primary has a “very good chance of taking the whole enchilada,” Hill said.
And in Nebraska, that could mean a senator for life.
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