LINCOLN — Mike Flood's exit from the 2014 race for Nebraska governor widens an already wide-open contest for the open seat.
While some hoped that he might be able to re-enter the race later, friends, colleagues and supporters focused Thursday on the welfare of the state senator's wife, who found out this week that she has breast cancer.
“He is passing up a golden opportunity in public service to instead focus on far more important duties as a husband and a father,” said Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb. “Stephanie and I are with them in every way possible.”
Flood, the speaker of the Legislature, shook the state's political landscape by announcing Thursday that he was dropping out of the race to care for his wife, Mandi.
Mandi Flood, 36, received the diagnosis Monday. She had felt a lump following her husband's Nov. 12 announcement that he would run for governor in 2014.
Though that election is two years off, Flood, 37, a Republican from Norfolk, said questions about the possibility of re-entering the race “don't even register” now.
“I can't have one foot in (the gubernatorial race) and one foot out,” Flood said. “Right now, all I want to concentrate on is helping her make a 100 percent recovery. I need to be home every night.”
The couple have two children: Brenden, 6, and Blake, 3.
Flood, known as a skillful negotiator and staunch pro-life advocate, was viewed as a leading candidate for the post Gov. Dave Heineman will vacate due to term limits in 2014.
Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy has already announced that he will be a GOP candidate, and Heineman has said he will back him. State Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont has said he's interested in running, and Attorney General Jon Bruning and State Treasurer Don Stenberg have been mentioned as possible candidates.
On the Democratic side, Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop said he is looking at the race. The name of University of Nebraska Regent Chuck Hassebrook has also been brought up as a potential candidate.
Flood's exit may inspire others to look at the race. State Auditor Mike Foley and Callaway, Neb., rancher-businessman Jim Jenkins were two names cited.
But for now, it scrambles what was shaping up to be a contest between the Legislature's leader and the governor's hand-picked candidate.
Chris Peterson, who ran Johanns' campaign for the Senate, said Thursday's news re-emphasized that people's lives, as well as politics, can change on a dime.
“There was real interest in Mike Flood's candidacy because of what he's accomplished as speaker,” Peterson said. “This announcement makes this open-seat race even more fluid and up in the air.”
It may reshuffle the deck of support from a group of Omaha business leaders.
Last month, Ken Stinson of Peter Kiewit Sons' Inc., Pete Ricketts of TD Ameritrade, Bruce Lauritzen of First National Bank and Howard Hawks of Tenaska Energy wrote a letter to fellow Republicans pledging $25,000 donations each to Flood's candidacy before Jan. 1. They asked those receiving the letter to donate as well to demonstrate the support of the business community.
Stinson, chairman of the board of Peter Kiewit and, like Flood, a graduate of Notre Dame University, said Thursday that he respected and supported Flood's decision but noted that the election is two years away.
“I understand that the runway for elections keeps getting longer and longer,” Stinson said. “But I think those of us who feel so strongly about Mike hope that this process and treatment goes well, and at some point in time he'll feel comfortable and get back in the race.”
Flood, who is leaving the Legislature because of term limits, became the second-youngest speaker in state history when chosen, in January 2007, at age 31 to the top job.
He had crisscrossed the state this summer and fall to weigh and build support for a gubernatorial run. Flood also had already lined up a finance director for his campaign, as had Sheehy, the former mayor of Hastings.
Stinson and others said that Flood's decision to put family ahead of politics only heightens their respect for him.
Two legislative colleagues, Sens. Chris Langemeier of Schuyler and Lavon Heidemann of Elk Creek, said Thursday their friend was making the right decision.
“I think Nebraskans appreciate family. That needs to be his focus,” Langemeier said.
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