26 GOP state senators endorse Nebraska’s congressional delegation after state party didn’t

By: - February 1, 2024 12:02 pm

State Sen. Myron Dorn of Adams. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska News Service)

LINCOLN — Days after the Nebraska Republican Party endorsed none of the state’s five-member, all-GOP congressional delegation — an endorsement none of them sought this year — 26 GOP state senators signed a letter endorsing all five.

“We, State Senators of Nebraska, endorse our current federal incumbents for re-election in 2024,” the letter says. 

The letter thanked U.S. Sens. Deb Fischer and Pete Ricketts and U.S. Reps. Mike Flood, Don Bacon and Adrian Smith for taking “commonsense Nebraska values” to Washington, D.C.,  touting their “dedicated conservative leadership.”

Signers included a broad swath of Republicans in the officially nonpartisan Legislature, including State Sens. Joni Albrecht of Wayne, Dave Murman of Glenvil, Kathleen Kauth of Omaha, Robert Dover of Norfolk and Speaker John Arch.

Dover, whom Ricketts appointed to the Legislature in 2022, said he and other senators who signed wanted to “show unity in the party.” He said it was not a shot at those who think differently.

“The only message in the letter is unity,” he said.

Slama defends Smith

State Sen. Julie Slama of Dunbar, speaking on the floor of the Legislature on Thursday, expressed frustration with the leadership of the state GOP for not endorsing any of the five. Slama, appointed to her seat by Ricketts in 2018, said it was unbelievable that the party endorsed an unknown opponent of Smith, the state’s longest-serving House member.

Let's not pretend that the state parties are in some way operational or have any influence over these bodies.

– State Sen. Julie Slama

She called Smith “one of the strongest conservatives in Congress.” He also represents one of the country’s most conservative districts. In 2020, Smith voted against accepting the presidential election results and has consistently criticized President Joe Biden. 

“Let’s not pretend that the state parties are in some way operational or have any influence over these bodies,” Slama said, citing efforts by Nebraska Democrats on Wednesday to censure and discipline State Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha. 

Smith’s primary opponent, John Walz, who was endorsed last weekend by the state GOP, embraces former President Donald Trump’s populist politics, like many in the team that took over the state party apparatus in 2022. Walz, of Hastings, describes himself as a “MAGA candidate.”

State Sen. Myron Dorn of Adams thanked Slama for her comments about the state party. He said the party needs to hear from more Republicans who are unhappy about their decision not to endorse any delegation members. 

‘Don’t believe in group endorsements’

State Sen. Ray Aguilar of Grand Island was one of six GOP state senators who did not sign the letter. He said he had endorsed every member of the delegation that he supports. He has endorsed Fischer, Ricketts, Flood and Smith, but not Bacon.

“I don’t believe in group endorsements,” Aguilar said. “That’s not how this is supposed to work.”

Nebraska GOP fight with delegation spills over into its endorsements

State Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard declined to comment about why he didn’t sign the letter. He said the whole discussion serves no Republican’s interest.

The other four GOP state senators who didn’t sign were Steve Halloran of Hastings, Christy Armendariz of Omaha, Bruce Bostelman of Brainard and Brian Hardin of Scottsbluff. 

State GOP Chairman Eric Underwood had no immediate comment about the senators’ letter. He said that party officials were attending a Republican National Committee meeting out of town and that they would have a response later Thursday.

The GOP’s State Central Committee on Saturday endorsed challengers to three congressional incumbents: former Air Force Lt. Col. John Glen Weaver, running against Ricketts; Omaha businessman Dan Frei, running against Bacon; and Walz, a Hastings engineer running against Smith. They said the state party constitution required them to consider only the people who applied for the state party’s endorsement.

Two days after the meeting, the party issued a 712-word tweet claiming that energized Republicans fueling the new GOP helped the Legislature pass bills on school choice, concealed carry of a handgun without a permit, tax relief and voter ID. 

“Most people are uncomfortable with change,” the state GOP tweet said. “However change is what it will take to change results. Change in ‘22 paved the way for ‘23 and can in ‘24 if the elected leaders hear the message of the people.” 

The statement said GOP primary voters they interact with want the delegation to listen and change their behavior. It said people are “tired of waiting for change and decisive Republican leadership.”

“This was not an ‘Against’ a current rep vote,” the statement said. “It was a ‘For’ vote for the agenda that was presented to be represented by those candidates that requested endorsement.”

The GOP statement said the party wants unity, too. However, it said, “it takes two parties to dance.” 

Letter signed by 26 GOP state senators Thursday in support of Nebraska’s five congressional delegates. (Screenshot)

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Aaron Sanderford
Aaron Sanderford

Political reporter Aaron Sanderford has tackled various news roles in his 20-plus year career. He has reported on politics, crime, courts, government and business for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. He also worked as an assignment editor and editorial writer. He was an investigative reporter at KMTV.

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