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Campaign finance reports show Republican incumbents in Nebraska have fundraising edge

WASHINGTON — This week’s campaign fundraising reports show Nebraska’s Republican incumbents with a substantial cash advantage over their challengers.

In the state’s most high-profile races, Sen. Ben Sasse’s campaign has piled up millions of dollars and Rep. Don Bacon holds a clear fundraising edge over his potential Democratic rivals.

Bacon reported receiving $287,667 during the third quarter, bringing the Omaha-area congressman’s overall total for this cycle to $1,083,930. His campaign reported $588,396 cash on hand.

He said in a statement that his campaign had a busy summer knocking doors and recruiting volunteers.

“Thank you, Nebraska, for such a strong show of support for our shared values,” Bacon said.

Among the handful of Democrats seeking their party’s nomination in the 2nd District, Kara Eastman leads the money race.

Eastman raised $128,395 in the quarter, bringing her overall total this cycle to $271,027. Her campaign finished the quarter with $67,024 cash on hand.

Her campaign noted in a statement that she outraised Bacon among individual donors for the quarter:

“Our fundraising is grassroots and puts us on track for victory next year.”

The Eastman statement pointed to Bacon’s contributions from corporate political action committees and cited a World-Herald report that Bacon had received campaign contributions from one of the men recently indicted in a scheme to illegally funnel foreign dollars into Republican campaign coffers.

Bacon’s campaign has said that as soon as the congressman learned about the nature of those donations, he donated the same amount to charity.

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Eastman’s chief primary rival thus far is Ann Ashford, who raised $52,792 in the third quarter, bringing her total for the cycle to $149,281.

That includes a $10,000 loan Ashford made to her campaign, which had $19,943 cash on hand at the end of the quarter.

Ashford campaign manager Eric Aspengren said in a statement that the campaign is mostly funded by in-state contributions.

“We are planning to ramp up our fundraising and expand our reach over the next few weeks,” Aspengren said.

Two other Democrats have filed paperwork in the 2nd District race.

Omaha restaurateur Gladys Harrison reported receiving $14,557 and had $14,145 cash on hand.

Local activist Morgann Freeman reported raising $4,925 and a negative balance of $956.

In Nebraska’s Senate race, meanwhile, Sasse’s various challengers have a tiny fraction of his massive campaign war chest.

Sasse reported $526,025 in receipts for the third quarter, bringing his total for the cycle to $4,183,310. His campaign had $2,723,648 cash on hand at the end of the period. And that doesn’t count money he is raising through additional fundraising committees.

In contrast, his GOP primary opponent, Matt Innis, reported raising $12,190 and finished the quarter with $6,038 cash on hand.

Innis has criticized Sasse for being insufficiently supportive of President Donald Trump. But that rationale for his candidacy suffered a significant blow when Trump tweeted his enthusiastic endorsement of Sasse.

The number of Nebraska donors listed in his report was in the single digits, but Innis said in a press release that doesn’t reflect the support he’s hearing from people on the ground. He said there’s plenty of time left for the campaign to improve its fundraising.

Two Democrats seeking the seat also have raised far less than Sasse.

Businessman Chris Janicek reported raising $33,379 for the quarter and $54,748 total for the cycle. Most of that total, $37,987, represents loans Janicek has made to the campaign.

He finished the quarter with $7,177 cash on hand.

Angie Philips, who has worked as a mental health advocate, reported $3,416 in receipts and $629 cash on hand.

Check out nearly 100 stunning photos of Nebraska

University of Nebraska regents closing in on next president

The presidential search committee has finished its work and forwarded the names of candidates for the University of Nebraska’s presidency to the Board of Regents.

NU Regent Jim Pillen, who headed the search committee, said Wednesday in a phone interview that his committee has “identified candidates, or semifinalists, to advance to the board.” He declined to say how many candidates have been forwarded to the regents.

Jim Pillen

Asked whether he or the regents have a single person in mind, Pillen said, “The board is going to be ready at the appropriate time to name a priority candidate.” He declined to say yes or no to the question about a favorite candidate.

Dr. Jeffrey Gold, chancellor of the NU Medical Center and the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said Tuesday in a public discussion that the search committee’s work is probably done.

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By state law, which was changed three years ago, the regents no longer have to release the names of four presidential finalists. They can identify a “priority candidate” and are not required to name anyone else.

The priority candidate then faces public meetings and scrutiny for 30 days before the board determines whether he or she is right for the job.

Gold, who is a member of the search committee, said in a brief interview Tuesday that members of the committee had met with more than eight applicants in private interviews in recent weeks. The 23-person committee divided into two groups to interview the individuals, he said.

Gold said he believed the regents would take their time mulling over the candidates.

“Whether they’ve met the regents’ needs, I have no way to predict that,” he said of the candidates.

The regents could reject all of the names, at which point the search committee might go back to work, Gold said. He said he didn’t know if the regents have met with any candidates. Pillen said the regents are “in the midst of that process.”

Gold said the regents are “not limited by the candidates recommended” by the search committee, he said, emphasizing that it has been an “advisory” committee.

“There was extensive national interest in the position,” Gold told the group. “I’ve said to the Board of Regents, ‘Whatever you do, you’ve got to hire a rock star.’ ” That would mean a solid leader, a visionary, he said.

“So, more to come,” Gold said. He said UNO would be informed when dates are set up for public meetings with the priority candidate. “I want them to know that UNO is a force,” he said.

The presidency was held by Hank Bounds for about 4½ years; he stepped down in August.

The NU president is the administrator over the NU system, including institutions in Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney and Curtis. The campus chancellors report to the president, who reports to the eight-member Board of Regents.

Photos: Our best shots of 2019 (so far)

U.S. Olympic Trials for Curling will return to Omaha in 2021

Omaha has earned another repeat performance to host an Olympic Trials event.

USA Curling officials announced Wednesday that Omaha has been selected to host the 2022 U.S. Olympic Trials for Curling at UNO's Baxter Arena.

Curling is the second Olympic sport to have Omaha consecutively host an Olympic Trials competition. USA Swimming has had its past three Olympic Trials in Omaha, beginning in 2008. That streak grows to four next year when the 2020 Trials will take place at CHI Health Center from June 21-28.

The curling event will be conducted from Nov. 13-21, 2021, and will decide which teams represent the United States at the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing, China. Ticket information will be announced at a later date.

Curling 101: Everything you need to know about the sport heading into the U.S. Olympic Curling Team Trials

John Shuster’s journey to an Olympic gold medal at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, began at the 2017 Trials in Omaha. Team Shuster — which also included Matt Hamilton, Tyler George and John Landsteiner — became the first American team to win gold in curling.

Shuster said he’s pleased to see the trials return to a familiar venue.

“The return of trials to Omaha is exciting both for competitors and the great fans that come out to support curling,” Shuster said. “Between the 2018 Olympic Trials and the World Cup, curlers really enjoyed their time there. It’s a really good fit.

“Baxter Arena is a beautiful arena. It’s a great place for our ice makers to allow the top teams to do their best. I really think Omaha is becoming known as a sports town.”

Omaha Sports Commission president Josh Todd said getting another event to come back proves that the city is a premier destination for world class events.

“The relationships and trust we have built with USOPC national governing bodies such as USA Curling have been key to being selected as the host city for trials events,” Todd said. “The 2022 U.S. Olympic Trials for Curling provides Omaha another chance to demonstrate our amazing community support through sport development, sponsorships and ticket sales. We look forward to a great event.”

Mike Kemp, senior associate athletic director at UNO, joined Todd, Shuster and others at the press conference at Baxter Arena on Wednesday to welcome the event back to the city.

“UNO Athletics and Baxter Arena are extremely happy to partner with the Omaha Sports Commission and USA Curling to once again host this event,” Kemp said. “The success of the 2018 Olympic Trials for Curling was evident by the way that the Omaha fans supported the trials through their attendance, and the atmosphere that they created.”

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Photos: 2017 U.S. Olympic Trials for Curling in Omaha

Nebraska House Republicans join in condemnation of Trump's Syria moves

WASHINGTON — Rep. Jeff Fortenberry says the crisis in Syria reflects a tension between two realities.

“The reality is we do have to get out of endless wars,” Fortenberry said Wednesday. “The other reality is we have to be supportive of allies.”

Fortenberry spoke to The World-Herald moments after voting with fellow Nebraska Republican Reps. Don Bacon and Adrian Smith to condemn President Donald Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of troops from northeast Syria.

That withdrawal helped clear the way for Turkey’s ongoing assault on Kurdish areas there.

The House overwhelmingly voted 354-60 to denounce the U.S. troop withdrawal, drawing votes from not only Democrats but also Republicans who have been staunch Trump supporters. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, also supported the resolution. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, opposed it.

At the White House, however, Trump expressed little regret about his decision to pull back. Rather, he said the U.S. has no business in the region — and not to worry about the Kurdish fighters.

“They know how to fight,” he said. “And by the way, they’re no angels.”

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Many Democrats, and some Republicans, have slammed Trump’s pullback as an abandonment of the Kurds, who proved themselves valuable allies as they died by the thousands fighting alongside America against the Islamic State extremists.

Nebraska’s U.S. senators, both Republicans, also have questioned Trump’s troop withdrawal.

Many lawmakers expressed worry that the move may lead to revival of the Islamic State and said they were concerned about Russian influence in the area and the slaughter of many Kurds.

“The decision to withdraw American troops and abandon the Kurds is not only morally indefensible, it undermines the safety of the American people,” Nebraska State Sen. Kate Bolz said last week after the withdrawal was announced. Bolz, a Democrat, hopes to challenge Fortenberry in 2020.

The issue hits close to home for Fortenberry, who has long worked on international issues generally and specifically on the plight of religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East.

Fortenberry expressed frustration that he has yet to get traction on a resolution to create a security plan for religious minorities in northern Iraq. He said such a plan could serve as a template for other areas.

“It hasn’t been done,” Fortenberry said. “I’m still crying in the wilderness.”

With the tension between the two realities in Syria, Fortenberry said the question is whether there was a way to start a more deliberate pullback of American troops but still prevent Turkish aggression.

Trump said he is fulfilling a campaign promise to bring U.S. troops home from “endless wars” in the Middle East — casting aside criticism that a sudden U.S. withdrawal from Syria not only betrays the Kurdish fighters but also stains U.S. credibility around the world and opens an important region to Russia, which is moving in.

“We have a situation where Turkey is taking land from Syria. Syria’s not happy about it. Let them work it out,” Trump said. “They have a problem at a border. It’s not our border. We shouldn’t be losing lives over it.”

Trump said he was sending Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Ankara to urge the Turks to halt their weeklong offensive into northeastern Syria. But his remarks, first to reporters in the Oval Office and later at a press conference with his Italian counterpart, suggested that he sees little at stake for America.

“Syria may have some help with Russia, and that’s fine,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of sand over there. So, there’s a lot of sand that they can play with.”

Fortenberry said he understands exasperation that other countries are always relying on America to be the world’s policeman, but he said it’s in America’s interest to protect its allies while fostering peace and stability.

He said all he can do is continue to advocate his approach to the administration and congressional leaders.

“The idea I’ve proposed is a very minimal footprint with other countries that actually creates conditions for stability through security,” Fortenberry said.

In an interview Wednesday, Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said she doesn’t like the decision to withdraw U.S. troops, and she split with Trump over his insistence that America has little at stake in the region.

It’s a strategic location, and having Russians operating in that area is not good, Fischer said.

“I would disagree with the president,” Fischer said. “It’s not fantastic that the Russians are there.”

Nebraska’s junior senator, Ben Sasse, was one of the first GOP lawmakers to criticize the move, saying it would result in the slaughter of American allies.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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