They held an election in Nebraska yesterday and a few people came, giving Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter solid victories in presidential primaries that attracted a much smaller portion of the electorate than the 1976 Nebraska primary did.
With 74 percent of the votes counted, Reagan was romping to victory over his final Republican rival, George Bush. The Californian had 77 percent of the vote to Bush's 17 percent. John Anderson, whose name appeared on the GOP ballot, had 6 percent.
Carter led Kennedy by 49 to 37 percent with 74 percent of the Democratic votes in. Ten percent of the the Democratic voters cast ballots for "uncommitted," three percent for California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. and one percent for Lyndon La-Rouche.
Reagan won 24 of Nberaska's 25 delegates to the Republican National Convention. Bush's lone delegate was elected in the First Congressional District, made up of Lincoln and surrounding counties, where the slate of Bush-pledged delegates was led by Rep. Douglas Bereuter, one of the state's most popular Republicans.
The Democratic delegate division was closer, with Carter apparently taking 14 convention delegates to Kennedy's 10.
The results in both parties were just what almost everybody expected. That, together with the absence of active campaigning by most candidates, seemed to explain the low turnout among voters on both sides. In previous Nebraska primaries, about half the eligible voters have shown up, but today officials expected a turnout lower than 35 percent.
In backing Reagan yesterday, Nebraska's Republicans followed the course set in the 1976 primary, when they gave him a 55-to-45 victory over Gerald Ford.
The 1976 Democrats, though, chose Sen. Frank Church D-Idaho by a narrow margin over Carter. Their support of the president yesterday suggested that their personal regard for Carter and their wariness of Kennedy weighed more heavily than pocketbook concerns.
Both industrial and agricultrual Nebraska have suffered from economic troubles this year. Farm organizations have been particularly outspoken in their criticism of Carter's embargo on grain sales to Russia, an action that has seriously depressed prices for Nebraska wheat, corn and soybeans.
Except for Kennedy, who went sister-in-law Ethel Kennedy and three of his nephews to the state and who traveled there himself twice in the past 10 days, the presidential contenders paid almost no attention to Nebraska this year.
On the Republican side, the candidates concluded that personal campaigning would essentially be meaningless because a Reagan victory had been a forgone conclusion for months.
Accordingly, Bush last visted Nebraska before last January's Iowa caucuses and mounted only a minimal surrogate campaign.
Reagan visited Nebraska in early April, a stop at Grand Island where he committed one of his better-known gaffes -- the assertion, later recanted that Vietnam veterans do not get veterans' benefits. He did not return.
Reagan left his fate in the hands of his widely admired state chairman, Grand Island developer Milan Bish. Bish mastermined Reagan's clear victory over Gerald Ford in the 1976 Nebraska primary. This time, in deference to Reagan's problems with legal spending limits, he had a budget about one-fourth as big as he had in 1976.
The only excitement on the GOP side in the weeks before the election came from internal squabbling in the Reagan camp. More than 100 Nebraskans had listed their names on the ballot for election as Reagan-pledged delegates to the national convention; but since there were only 25 delegates slots to fill, hard feelings among Reagan supporters were the inevitable result.
The best thing that happened to Bush in Nebraska was his upset victory across the Missouri River in Iowa last January. That prompted some prominent Nebraska Republicans to endorse his candidacy, and they provided what little spark the Bush campaign showed in the state.
On the Democratic side, the Carter campaign also gave Nebraska relatively short shrift. Facing its own problem with the spending limit, the Carter-Mondale campaign originally gave its Nebraska organizers a tiny budget. "I was putting up yard signs -- that's all the money we had," said Terri Deneze, Carter's state coordinator. t
But in the final week, when Kennedy made his last push, the Carter people decided to purchase television time for advertisements attacking Kennedy as a "big spender" whose word could not be trusted.
Local Carter supporters in the western, more rural part of the state complained to campaign headquarters that the ads, widely used in eastern states, were too harsh for Nebraska and would hurt the president's cause. But these objections were ignored by Carter's national campaign office.
Kennedy was in the state the last two weekends before the election.
He addressed the annual dinner 10 days ago of the state Democratic Party, a forum to reach leaders from around the state. The Carter people were shut out of that dinner because they refused to send either Vice President Mondale or First Lady Rosalynn Carter to represent the president, and Kennedy said he would not speak if he had to share the head table with a lesser surrogate.
Last weekend Kennedy had a series of small campaign events and more than a dozen interviews with local media outlets -- an effort to make up for television advertising his campaign had to cancel for lack of funds.
Another reason for Kennedy's two trips to the state is the tradition that Nebraska Democrats tend to vote for the presidential candidate who courts them most vigorously. Such liberals as Robert Kennedy in 1968, George McGovern in 1972 and Frank Church in 1976 won primaries in the relatively conservative state through intense personal campaigning.
Kennedy reminded Nebraskans of this in a speech in Omaha Saturday. "I remember you have a tradition that the man who campaigns here most gets the most votes, and I endorse that," he said. His state chairman, Francis Olmstead of Guiderock, stated the "tradition" more succintly: "Our rule is, if they don't come here, bleep 'em."