Republicans campaign for U.S. Senate seat: Part 2


April 4th, 2012

Columbus and Lincoln, NE- A large group of candidates wants the Republican spot on the ballot for Nebraska’s open U.S. Senate seat. Today we wrap-up our Signature Story series on the four Republicans who are most actively campaigning in the primary. Mike Tobias spent time with Pat Flynn and Don Stenberg to get a sense of what they’re saying and doing on the campaign trail.

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Pat Flynn is standing near the entrance of a Columbus restaurant’s banquet hall, greeting folks arriving for a Friday evening fish fry campaign event as they pass by a table with “Flynn for Senate” flyers and a freewill offering basket. The crowd would grow to about 70 by the time Flynn took the microphone to deliver his stump speech.
“Number one, I believe the majority of America is more conservative than not,” Flynn told his audience. “Unfortunately, we just keep moving further and further to the left, whether Republicans or Democrats are in power.”

Flynn is from Schuyler, just a few miles east of this restaurant. He’s a 53-year-old University of Nebraska-Lincoln ag economics graduate who started an insurance business and was an investment advisor. A year ago, he sold his business to make running for Senate a full-time job. He also ran four years ago, losing to Mike Johanns in the primary by a 78 to 22 percent margin.

“Once I see to the degree that career politicians don’t work, it’s like, I know the solution, so let’s do it,” Flynn said. “So I got back in. I’m really a desperado as far as where America is at, and I believe there’s a full-blown assault on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in America.”

Pat Flynn is a U.S Senate candidate (Photo credit Pat Flynn Campaign)

Flynn labels himself “very conservative,” calling for less government and a 30 percent federal budget reduction by significantly cutting the budgets of federal agencies like the EPA, Department of Energy and Department of Education. At this event he quotes George Washington and Samuel Adams, and talks about the need to change attitudes and actions to become “the greatest generation ever.”

“How do we become the greatest generation ever? Number one is prayer. Now, if one thinks American became America without the reliance on prayer, they’d be duly mistaken,” Flynn told his audience. “Number two, we need a constitutional revolution by electing representatives that can lead us back to the principals and values of our founding fathers.”

In a crowded field that includes three better-known candidates, Flynn faces an uphill battle to win the primary. But he says he’s learned from his first Senate run, focusing on stronger organization, raising more money and understanding that a Friday fish fry can get you a room full of potential voters.

While Flynn is a relative newcomer to politics, Don Stenberg has made a career out of it. In a crowded workroom that’s part of his campaign office, Stenberg makes sure a half dozen reporters have their cameras and recorders ready before starting a news conference outlining his plan for cutting federal spending.

“The plan I am proposing today will put in place spending restraints, eliminate special privileges for members of Congress and federal workers, eliminate failed departments and programs, reduce the cost of federal operations and preserve Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for future generations,” he told reporters.

Don Stenberg is a U.S Senate Candidate (Photo courtesy Nebraska State Treasurer)

In 1978, Stenberg was a UNL and Harvard Law School graduate making his first run for office, vying for lieutenant governor. He would finish fourth in the primary. Since then, he’s found electoral success – and failure. He won three elections for attorney general, and in 2010 was elected to his current post, state treasurer. But Stenberg’s also lost three previous bids for U.S. Senate, twice losing in the primary, and then losing to Ben Nelson in the 2000 general election. The 63-year-old Tekamah native is hoping for a different outcome this time around.

“I think the difference is that my conservative philosophy, that I’ve always had, I think fits better with the current times,” Stenberg said. “I think that Nebraskans have seen what a liberal federal government looks like under Barack Obama and I think they appreciate my position in favor of smaller government and less regulation, repealing Obamacare’ and so forth.”

Stenberg refers to himself as a “genuine lifelong conservative,” and is quick to draw comparisons between himself and Jon Bruning, the Republican generally perceived to be the frontrunner in the primary. Stenberg’s four-page proposal for cutting federal spending includes things like a balanced-budget amendment, banning Congressional earmarks and eliminating the Department of Education and Department of Energy.

“To effectively cut federal spending, we need a United States senator with a proven record of fiscal responsibility. I have that record,” Stenberg told reporters at the news conference.

But does he have the ability to overcome Bruning’s sizable funding advantage? Stenberg alluded to reporters that he might get outside help from conservative groups running ads on his behalf. That support remains to be seen, along with whether this political veteran has what it takes to attract more voters than his three previous attempts at the office.

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