Republican Jean Stothert says the Omaha mayor's race is about “change.”
For Democrat Jim Suttle, it's about a “progressive vision.”
The challenger and the mayor wasted little time basking in their primary wins, as they began their six-week sprint to the May 14 general election Wednesday by posing for photographers and taking a few subtle — and not so subtle — pokes at each other.
They also began the task of reaching out to the supporters of their primary rivals, with Stothert picking up the endorsement of key GOP rivals and with both sides angling for supporters of the race's lone Independent, State Sen. Brad Ashford.
Stothert and Suttle were the two top votegetters in Tuesday's primary. Both advanced to the May general election.
Stothert, an Omaha city councilwoman seeking to become the city's first female mayor, made clear that her no-new-tax pledge would be both a cornerstone and a hammer in her campaign. Stothert opposed several tax hikes pushed by Suttle — a fact voters will hear repeatedly.
Photo gallery: Images from Stothert and Suttle campaign parties
“I'm not supportive of any new taxes. In fact, my goal is to repeal all of Suttle's tax hikes,” said Stothert. “I believe the citizens of Omaha have had enough. They want a leader.”
Suttle countered that Stothert was the candidate of “no” who rejected every proposal put forward to address the city's financial crisis that he says he inherited four years ago. He also defended the tax increases, including a wheel tax hike and a new restaurant tax, saying they were needed to keep the city from going bankrupt.
“I've been the voice of 'yes' as we have moved the city forward. I have a progressive vision. And my opponent has been the voice of 'no, no, no.' She's been the voice of a regressive vision,” said Suttle.
Both Suttle and Stothert started the race as frontrunners. However, many people — including Stothert — said they believed Suttle would win.
In the end, Stothert won a resounding victory, securing 32 percent of the vote. Suttle, who survived a 2011 recall election, captured 24 percent.
In all, more than three out of four voters cast a ballot for someone other than Suttle.
The primary numbers may not be a mortal blow, but they clearly show Suttle is vulnerable, a fact Stothert was quick to note.
“People want change. I think that message was heard loud and clear last night,” Stothert said.
For his part, Suttle argued that the general election is a “new ballgame.” Many people who did not vote in the primary — including many Democrats — will come out to vote in May, he predicted.
“We still have to address the critical question after every primary vote: Who didn't vote? That will be my target,” said Suttle.
Suttle and Stothert promised spirited campaigns, noting that they will give voters a clear contrast in style and in policy.
The race also could be aggressive and negative.
In fact, Republicans wasted little time. An anti-Suttle television ad hammering him on taxes began to run this morning. It was purchased by a third-party group known as the Nebraska Leadership Forum.
So far, the group has not registered with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.
One thing both Stothert and Suttle said they planned to do was to reach out to their primary supporters, and to the people who voted for other candidates in the race.
Two of Stothert's GOP rivals in the primary, Dan Welch and Dave Nabity, attended a Republican “unity rally” in west Omaha on Wednesday afternoon, throwing their support behind Stothert.
Nabity said the campaign may have had its share of “rough and tumble moments” — Nabity had frequently criticized Stothert for raising taxes while on the Millard School Board — but that all needed to be put in the past.
“If there is forgiveness out there that's needed, we need to forgive,” he said.
Welch, who had criticized Stothert for taking a 2008 donation from the local firefighters' union, also said Republicans needed to unite behind Stothert and defeat Suttle.
“I will be behind her 100 percent,” he said.
Both Stothert and Suttle said they hoped to persuade supporters of State Sen. Brad Ashford to back them in May.
Ashford, who ran as an Independent, said he had no plans to endorse in the general election.
“It would be inconsistent with what I'm trying to say to people,” said Ashford, “that these races shouldn't be so partisan.”
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Exclusive interviews with Stothert, Suttle
Video: Suttle speech at campaign party
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