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Back in the day, Nov. 4, 1986: Kay Orr defeats Helen Boosalis in Nebraska governor's race
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Back in the day, Nov. 4, 1986: Kay Orr defeats Helen Boosalis in Nebraska governor's race

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The race between Helen Boosalis, left, and Kay Orr is memorable because it was a first — the first time in the nation that two women ran against each other for governor.

Thirty-five years ago today, Nebraska provided a national first when two women candidates competed in the governor's race: Republican Kay Orr, 47, and Democrat Helen Boosalis, 67. Orr won, becoming the first elected woman Republican governor in the country.

As the first women nominated as candidates for governor in Nebraska, Orr and Boosalis added to the previous "firsts" they'd had in their political careers.

Then-Gov. Charles Thone appointed Orr as state treasurer in 1981, and she was elected in 1982 to a full term as treasurer, becoming the first woman elected to a statewide office in Nebraska.

Boosalis was the first woman mayor of Lincoln, serving from 1975-1983, and first woman mayor of a city of 100,000 or more in the U.S. 

Orr won the Nebraska governorship by squeaking out a tiny edge in normally Democratic Douglas County, by running stronger than expected in southeast Nebraska and by winning big in the western part of the state. Overall, she got 53 percent of the vote; Boosalis received 47 percent.

After conceding, Boosalis called the race "an open, honest forthright campaign."

Orr said of her opponent, "We want to recognize Helen Boosalis, who devoted her life to serving her community."

In an interview after her election was ensured, Orr also said: "I think I can serve the people and make a difference."


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