Gov. Pete Ricketts seizes spotlight in buildup to Nebraska primary

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts is touting his conservative credentials on the national stage as he prepares for a showdown with the winner of Tuesday's Democratic gubernatorial primary.

The Republican governor has made recent appearances at the National Rifle Association's annual convention in Texas, where he stressed his support for gun rights, and at President Donald Trump's White House, where he and other Midwestern officials emphasized the importance of agricultural trade in farm states.

Ricketts also gained national attention for signing a state budget that denies federal family-planning dollars to groups that provide or refer patients to abortion services, including Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. In Nebraska, his campaign started airing statewide television ads last month.

Ricketts faces a lone primary challenge from Krystal Gabel, an Omaha-based advocate for medical marijuana and industrial hemp, but is an overwhelming favorite to prevail in Tuesday's GOP primary. He then would compete against the winner of a three-way Democratic primary as he seeks a second term.

The Democratic candidates have spent much of their time criticizing the governor and his policies. State Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha has knocked Ricketts for his recent state budget cuts to the University of Nebraska and his financial contributions to conservative allies who are running for the Legislature.

Krist has also taken steps to prepare for the general election. Earlier this month, he kicked off a statewide listening tour with his gubernatorial running mate, state Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont.

Democratic hopeful Tyler Davis, an emergency services instructor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, has said state budget cuts under Ricketts' tenure will end up hurting residents over the long term.

The third contender, Omaha community activist Vanessa Ward, has touted her work to reduce crimes and noted the service awards she has won, including a volunteering accolade from President Barack Obama.