- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2006

Nebraska Rep. Tom Osborne, whose football coaching prowess helped propel him to Congress, today will try to unseat the state’s Republican governor in a party primary that, to the surprise of many, was a statistical tie in recent polls.

“It’s going to be a neck-and-neck race,” said Vicki Powell, manager of the Osborne campaign.

One-term Gov. Dave Heineman has pulled ahead of Mr. Osborne, the high-profile former coach of the University of Nebraska, in several polls and has garnered the support of conservative groups such as the National Rifle Association and the Nebraska Right to Life Committee.

“We’ve known it was going to be a close race for a long time,” said Carlos Castillo, Mr. Heineman’s campaign manager.

Mr. Castillo said the biggest question for Republican voters will be why to change course when a Republican governor was already in office. Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, has endorsed Mr. Heineman.

A poll released last week by the nonpartisan MSR Group showed Mr. Heineman leading Mr. Osborne 44 percent to 43 percent. Seven percent of voters identified themselves as “undecided,” and 6 percent said they support Republican businessman Dave Nabity.

The winner of the primary will face Democrat David Hahn.

Mr. Osborne, 69, has won three consecutive terms to Nebraska’s 3rd District, which has never elected a Democrat, with more than 80 percent of the vote. He has won the endorsement of Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.

“If you want the status quo, then you’re going to elect Heineman,” Ms. Powell said. “But if you want a state of excellence, Tom Osborne has shown he can put us on the map.”

Analysts say the leading issues in the race are illegal entry, government spending and economic development. Mr. Osborne has taped a TV ad that documents his “strong opposition to illegal immigration.”

The Heineman campaign says Mr. Osborne is soft on illegal entry because he favors a proposal that would grant in-state college tuition rates to the children of illegal aliens.

Ms. Powell said the response to their ad has been “very positive.”

The Heineman campaign said they have prepared for a tight race and have undertaken a 72-hour get-out-the-vote campaign that mirrors many of the tactics used by the Republican National Committee during the past two election cycles.

“We’ve knocked on over 50,000 doors in the last four days,” Mr. Castillo said.

The Osborne team has its own such campaign.

“We’re pretty much done with the phone calls and now have people out walking the precincts,” Ms. Powell said. Mr. Osborne is focusing his last-minute campaigning efforts on the tri-cities region of the state.

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