OMAHA — Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts easily won four more years Tuesday to continue his work on slowing the growth of state government while seeing if he can deliver a big fix on property taxes.

Ricketts never trailed in election returns Tuesday, turning back a challenge from State Sen. Bob Krist, the Democrat who billed himself as a bipartisan leader best positioned to solve prison overcrowding and high property taxes.

“I’m grateful to have the support of Nebraskans to continue building on our foundation the next four years” Ricketts said, delivering his victory speech to supporters at the Regency Marriott in Omaha about 90 minutes after the polls closed.

Krist, who served 10 years in the Nebraska Legislature as a moderate Republican before switching affiliation to take on Ricketts, called to concede the race shortly before 9:30 p.m.

The Omaha senator had hoped he could attract strong support from political independents while peeling off Republicans dissatisfied with the governor’s first term. But Republicans, who enjoy a sizable registration advantage in Nebraska, once again delivered victory to the man with the distinctive bald head and firmly conservative track record.

The 54-year-old governor said recently he intends to serve his entire second term in response to speculation that he might run for Senate in 2020. U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, who has not yet said if he will seek a second term in Washington, introduced Ricketts to the crowd Tuesday night.

On the campaign trail, the governor rarely even mentioned his opponent, instead sticking to a well-honed message that highlighted his first-term achievements. They include his success in requiring state agencies to improve customer service, cutting the growth of state spending and government regulations and helping Nebraska climb national rankings in economic development, wage growth, fiscal strength and low unemployment.

The state also carried out its first execution in 21 years, in part because of the $300,000 the governor gave to a referendum that allowed voters to overturn a 2015 legislative repeal of the death penalty. Ricketts derived his wealth while an executive at TD Ameritrade, the Omaha brokerage founded by his father, and through his family’s ownership of the Chicago Cubs major league baseball team.

Asked what propelled him to victory, Ricketts said, “I think it’s the results.”

Not surprisingly, campaign funding weighed heavily in the governor’s favor as well. Ricketts has spent about $2.4 million compared to Krist’s $567,000, based on recent campaign filings.

Krist, a retired Air Force colonel, earned a reputation during a decade in the Legislature as a Republican with an unpredictable, independent streak who frequently aggravated GOP leaders. During his campaign, he criticized Ricketts for helping fund more conservative candidates to knock out sitting Republicans who voted against the governor.

Ricketts asked his supporters to give a round of applause to Krist, saying, “He served our nation and our state.”

During the campaign, Krist also promised to rework the state’s tax system, ending some sales tax exemptions and generating new revenues by legalizing industrial hemp and casino gambling as a way to reduce property taxes. His plan contrasted with the governor’s rigid opposition to raising one type of tax to lower another.

In his concession speech, Krist told the crowd at the Firefighters Union Hall in Omaha that state senators have “one heck of a big job coming up” in tackling property taxes and the funding of education. “We cannot go further into this slide towards Kansas,” he said.

The governor said cutting property taxes will be the top priority of the 2019 legislative session.

“Let’s find the right formula to get a bill to my desk so I can sign it,” he said.

A strong supporter of Trump, the governor followed the president’s lead on immigration in the closing days of the campaign. At a GOP rally last week, Ricketts praised Trump for confronting “thousands of gate-crashers that are coming toward our southern border right now.”

Ricketts is now 2-1 in statewide political races, with his lone loss in 2006 when he challenged former U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson. Ricketts got buried in that election despite spending $12 million of his own money.

After that defeat, Ricketts took a methodical approach to rebuild his political brand, winning a highly coveted position of national committeeman for the Nebraska Republican Party. He traveled the state, developed relationships and built a network that still serves him today.

His groundwork paid off in 2014 when he emerged atop a crowded GOP primary field that included Jon Bruning, a former Attorney General and political veteran. Ricketts then went on the easily defeat former University of Nebraska Regent Chuck Hassebrook, a Democrat, in the general election.

Ricketts was joined on stage Tuesday night by his wife, Susanne Shore, their three children and Lt. Gov. Mike Foley. In the crowd were his parents, Marlene and Joe Ricketts, the founders of TD Ameritrade.

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