Jim Jenkins, an independent candidate for U.S. Senate in Nebraska, passed a major hurdle recently by qualifying for the ballot in the November election. If successful, he would be the first independent senator from Nebraska in the state's history.
Nebraska is a big state. In square miles, it is the fifteenth largest state in the U.S. -- larger than New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan. Politically, it takes on a lesser role than these high-profile states, and is often written off as a solid red state with little chance for movement.
The state’s two U.S. Senate seats and three House seats are all currently held by Republicans, and its electorate voted against Barack Obama in the last two presidential elections.
However, Nebraska has a long history of contradicting conventional wisdom. It is the only state with a single-house (unicameral) state legislature, and its 49 state legislators (the smallest body in the nation) are elected in a nonpartisan manner.
Nebraska is also one of two states (Maine being the other) where electoral votes may be split among candidates in presidential elections.
Jenkins, a rancher and businessman, believes his candidacy as an independent in the “sensible center” puts him on a unique path to success.“Nebraska,” he says on his
website, “doesn't belong to a political party; it belongs to our people.”
“It’s all about doing our part in one shape or fashion. We’re on the right side of history,” Jenkins said in an interview for IVN.
Jenkins believes in solving problems through vigorous debate and compromise. He pledges to bring back true leadership, common sense, and to serve as a bridge builder to help fix our broken political system.
“My plan is to vote issue by issue, not supporting the party stances,” he said. “Ultimately, I’ll have to vote with one leader or another. I’ll have to decide which side of the aisle I’m going to vote on.”
However, he maintains that he is the only one in the race who won’t caucus with either party.
The 2014 Senate race is a hotly contested one, since Republican incumbent Mike Johanns announced last year that he would not run for re-election.
In the May primary, Republican Ben Sasse defeated four other Republicans to reach the November ballot. While Sasse, a tea party-leaning conservative and leading critic of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is running as a political outsider, the truth is that he has considerable Washington insider experience. He has the support of Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin, and conservative national media outlets.Jenkins claims that two-thirds of Sasse’s campaign money has come from outside the state, and suggests that Sasse would have voted to shut the government down, even as he tries to avoid the tea party label.
The Democratic primary was easily won by attorney Dave Domina, who positions himself as a centrist and an outsider. Like Jenkins, Domina also promises to combat divisiveness and bring about across-the-aisle solutions. However, according to Jenkins, Domina is simply too left-leaning for conservative Nebraskans to accept.
Another independent, Todd Watson, will also appear on the ballot. Watson’s website portrays him as a conservative campaigning for smaller government, protection of religious liberty, and repeal of the ACA. If it wasn't for Ben Sasse’s candicacy, he might have tea party support.
Jenkins said he hopes to “send shock waves throughout the system” by getting enough votes to be noticed, and to hold the parties “accountable to a growing number of voters who are abandoning them.”
“But I got into this to win it, not to make a statement,” he added.
When asked about the potential of him being a spoiler in the race, Jenkins responded:
“The true spoilers are the Democrats and Republicans who are clearly unable to govern, unable to lead, taking the country to a place that is much worse than where we are and where we've been. If you sign on to this herd mentality, we’ll fall over the cliff.” - Jim Jenkins
Jenkins claims to have good name recognition across the state, owing much of this to his restaurant chains in Nebraska. He has also received strong media coverage in papers such as the Lincoln Journal Star, and an endorsement from the York News Times.Other local papers, as well as radio and television stations, are paying close attention to his candidacy and Jenkins hopes for additional endorsements.
Jenkins sees great opportunity for his candidacy in a race with no incumbent and an absence of suitable choices on either the Republican or Democratic side.
“When you look at the landscape, I think I have a pathway to victory,” he said.
He points to his own polling, which he claims shows that 60 percent of voters would consider voting for the right independent.
He is running with a relatively small budget, but notes that the $350,000-500,000 he expects to spend goes a lot further in Nebraska than it would in many other states.
Jenkins is counting on a late surge of support:
“It’s a unique opportunity for people and it will be an interesting test to see if people revert back to their comfortable ideological silos, their parties, their tribes; or, are enough people disgruntled to see this as an opportunity to do something unique?” - Jim Jenkins
The stakes are high: a coveted U.S. Senate seat; a chance to shift the balance of power in Congress; the trumpeting of a message that middle America has had enough of gridlock and seeks new direction.
A victory by Jim Jenkins can give Nebraska the political clout to match its geographic size. Watch out New York and Florida: the shock waves may rattle some windows across the nation.