One-time front-runner Rep. Jon Christensen's last-minute attacks in the Republican gubernatorial primary backfired as Lincoln Mayor Mike Johanns easily won the nomination today.
Christensen wept as he gave his concession speech, then looked down at a row of photographers in front of him.
"You guys up front here taking my picture -- I beg . . . that you don't use one of me crying." he said. "This may be the last time I'm in the paper."
With 64 percent of precincts reporting, Johanns had 41 percent of the vote. State Auditor John Breslow was second with 29 percent, while Christensen trailed with 28 percent.
Christensen faced a barrage of criticism from within his own party after mailing a flier last week to thousands accusing Johanns of not doing enough to remove an "obscene and racist" program from Lincoln's public-access cable station.
Johanns vehemently disputed the allegations. The 47-year-old father of two said he had tried to stop the program -- which showed a man urinating -- but could not because federal law protected it.
Christensen, a 35-year-old fundamentalist Christian, stood by the flier, saying it would "be a rallying cry for social conservatives."
But Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska's top Republican, broke his promise to remain neutral in the race and called Christensen's fliers "trash" and a "gross distortion."
Without endorsing anyone, Hagel urged a vote for the candidate who ran a campaign of which the party and state could be proud.
Johanns welcomed the backlash. "Thank you, Jon Christensen, for energizing my team with your shabby campaign tactics," he said. "They are motivated and going to be out there in droves."
Christensen gave up his seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee to run for governor. A member of the 1994 Republican Revolution that gave the GOP a majority, Christensen unseated three-term Democrat Peter Hoagland by less than 1 percent in one of the most bitterly fought races in the nation. He breezed to reelection in 1996.
The race for the Democratic nomination was much tamer and nowhere near as close.
Bill Hoppner, 48, former chief of staff for Sens. Bob Kerrey and Jim Exon, beat lawyer and former state legislator Jim McFarland, 50, by a 2 to 1 margin. McFarland was an All-American football player at Nebraska and played in the NFL in the early 1970s.