A political rally in Omaha for a Democrat running for mayor disclosed a deep divide among Nebraska Democrats.
This is part two of Nebraska Radio Network’s series produced in collaboration with HuffPost.
Nebraska Democratic Party chair Jane Kleeb says the Hillary Clinton/Bernie Sanders split surprises her, never more evident than in the finger pointing after Democrat Heath Mello lost despite a rally in Omaha featuring Bernie Sanders.
“So, if you don’t like Bernie Sanders, you’ll blame Heath Mello’s loss on Bernie,” Kleeb tells Nebraska Radio Network and HuffPost. “There’s no evidence to show that.”
Mello came off two terms in the Unicameral and a successful stint as Appropriations Committee chair, guiding the legislature through some difficult financial times, to run for Omaha mayor. Young and energetic, Mello offered a fresh face to challenge the re-election of Republican Jean Stothert.
Mello fell short.
Stothert won 53% of the vote during the May election with Mello at 47%. The two combined to spend $3.8 million during the race, a record amount for Omaha politics.
It appeared Mello scored a coup when former presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, agreed to headline a rally in Omaha on behalf of the Mello campaign. It turned into a nightmare as some national Democratic leaders criticized Sanders for supporting Mello, who opposes abortion.
The April rally, also attended by Democratic National Committee Deputy Chair, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, became anything but the Democratic unity tour is was touted to be.
Kleeb says the Mello campaign invited Sanders after public opinion polls indicated Sanders was the most popular Democrat among Nebraskans. Kleeb says Mello has a compelling personal reason for opposing abortion and could have blunted the criticism by explaining his stance more clearly on the campaign trail.
Though Kleeb plays down the controversy, University of Nebraska-Omaha political science professor Paul Landow says the Sander’s rally hurt Mello’s chances in the mayoral race.
“Nebraskans in general have absolutely nothing in common with East Coast liberal socialists,” Landow tells Nebraska Radio Network and HuffPost in an interview at UNO.
Landow calls the Sanders rally a colossal mistake.
Tomorrow, how Nebraska Democrats differ from national Democrats.
Eliot Nelson with HuffPost contributed to this article.
Click here for part one: Will fight against Keystone XL lead to victories for Democrats in 2018?
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]