State Sen. Charlie Janssen is throwing in his “Janssen for Governor” stickers.
The Fremont Republican confirmed Sunday that he is giving up his governor's bid — the latest twist in the Nebraska GOP gubernatorial primary race, which has seen its share of candidates come and its share of candidates go.
Janssen, 43, said he came to the conclusion last week that he had little chance of winning in a crowded primary field, which includes heavy-hitters such as Omaha businessman Pete Ricketts and State Auditor Mike Foley.
“The way the field was shaping up, I didn't see a clear path to victory,” Janssen said.
Janssen, however, left the door open Sunday to running for state auditor.
Janssen's exit trims the GOP gubernatorial field to five. But that may be only a temporary tally. Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning acknowledged last week that he was “strongly considering” a bid and said that he would make a decision soon.
A late entry by Bruning would dramatically change the dynamics of the race. He would instantly become a front-runner because of his previous bids for statewide office and his high name recognition among voters.
Bruning's entry would also create an open seat for attorney general. And it could have a domino effect, prompting other current and potential candidates to consider a run for that office.
Former Attorney General Don Stenberg, who currently is seeking re-election as state treasurer, could decide to run for his old job, several GOP sources said Sunday.
“I think there will be a lot of people waiting to see what Don Stenberg does. He loved being attorney general, and if Don ran, it would freeze a lot of people out,” said Mark Fahleson, former chairman of the Nebraska Republican Party.
Stenberg could not be reached for comment Sunday.
The five Republicans left in the governor's primary are Ricketts, Foley, Omaha tax attorney Bryan Slone and State Sens. Beau McCoy of Omaha and Tom Carlson of Holdrege.
Democrats do not have a contested primary election for governor. The only Democrat in the field is Chuck Hassebrook, a former member of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents.
Janssen was the first Republican to officially launch his campaign last February. A former member of the Fremont City Council, Janssen traveled extensively across the state during the past year, running on a pro-gun and anti-illegal immigration platform.
During his year in the race, Janssen saw several candidates drop out. Two candidates — former State Sen. Mike Flood and Falls City businessman Charles Herbster — cited their wives' illnesses in ending their bids. A third, former Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy, dropped out after a scandal broke over his use of a state cellphone.
Janssen is a co-owner of RTG Medical, a company that provides temporary health care workers for hospitals and other medical institutions. He currently is serving his second term in the Nebraska Legislature.
In the end, Janssen's campaign failed to gain much traction. He raised only about $317,000. Of that, about $132,000 came from his personal checking account or was a loan from his business.
In the latest campaign reports, released Friday, Janssen had $74,000 in the bank.
Janssen said neither money nor Bruning's potential entry into the race was the primary reason for getting out.
“I think I would have raised money, just like I have throughout the campaign — month by month. I think I was gaining some traction,” Janssen said.
“Was the money a factor? It was part of it, but certainly not a defining factor.”
Janssen's departure and Bruning's possible entry into the race are sure to spur political discussions in the days ahead.
So far, several Republicans are considering a possible run for attorney general in the event that Bruning decides to run. They include Omaha lawyer Brian Buescher, who once ran for Omaha City Council, and Lincoln attorneys Doug Peterson and Mark Hilgers, who ran unsuccessfully for the Nebraska Legislature in 2012.
“To some extent, everybody is considering the options and rethinking things,” said J.L. Spray, chairman of the Nebraska Republican Party.
One Democrat is in the attorney general's race. Janet Stewart of Fremont, who previously ran for Congress and Nebraska secretary of state, said she plans to formally enter the race later this month.
Several sources said State Sen. Pete Pirsch is considering a run for attorney general. Pirsch is currently a candidate for state auditor, but he could change his mind.
Pirsch, a Republican from Omaha, could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Speculation also has grown that Janssen may run for state auditor.
Janssen declined to discuss his political future Sunday but didn't rule out a bid for state auditor.
“I'm really keeping my options open, but right now I'm happy to be the state senator from Dodge County,” Janssen said.
If the Republican field is going to be reshuffled, it should happen quickly, Spray said.
All incumbents must file for office — any office — by Feb. 18.