Omaha, Neb. ( Associated Press) — Nebraska State Sen. Mike Flood won a special election Tuesday to replace former U.S. Representative Jeff Fortenberry, a fellow Republican who was sentenced day to two years’ probation for pleading guilty to a charge of lying to federal agents.
Patty Pansing Brooks defeated Democratic State Senator Patty Pansing Brooks in the state’s Republican-leaning first district, which includes Lincoln and dozens of small, mostly conservative cities in eastern Nebraska.
Flood, a former Speaker of the Nebraska Legislature, will serve the rest of Fortenberry’s ninth term. He will be a strong favorite to win a new term in November, when he faces Pansing Brooks again.
In a brief interview following his victory, Flood promised to be a conservative advocate for the district and a champion for local infrastructure projects and agriculture. Throughout the campaign, he sought to blame President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for rising inflation, and vowed to fight the policies of the Biden administration.
Flood acknowledged that he needed to do more to increase his support in the Lincoln area, one of the only pockets of Democratic strength in the district. Flood’s victory was less than in the previous election, when Fortenberry would easily defeat Democratic challengers with over 60% of the vote.
“I admit I have to work,” Flood said.
Nebraska Democratic Party President Jane Klebb said in a statement that the lower-than-expected gap reflects a need for more national party support in rural areas that are often seen as unstoppable.
“Sen. Pansing Brooks connected with voters and began to change the political landscape of Nebraska,” Kleb said.
Both the candidates were nominated by the leaders of their parties in April to participate in the special election. The following month, Nebraska’s primary voters selected him to run in the general election.
In court on Tuesday, Fortenberry sat quietly when US District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld ordered her to remain on probation, pay a $25,000 fine and do community service. Blumenfeld rejected prosecutors’ request for a six-month prison sentence, saying the former congressman’s behavior in the case was out of character.
Fortenberry later said that he planned to appeal, arguing that prosecutors should never have brought the case and accusing him of taking advantage of his trust.
“It has been very painful and we have to find a way to go,” he said outside the courthouse. “But I’m grateful that … the judge recognized that the pattern of what I wanted to do with my life was simply to serve in public office and try to help people.”
Assistant US Attorney Mac Jenkins said prosecutors disagreed with the decision not to impose jail time, but noted the judge’s comments supporting the jury’s decision.
Fortenberry resigned in March, shortly after a California jury found him guilty of corruption. He has maintained his innocence and said he plans to appeal. before he was charged In October, Fortenberry was expected to sail off to an easy victory.
Prosecutors allege that Fortenberry lied to federal agents several times in illegal campaign contributions received from a foreign national at a 2016 fundraiser in Los Angeles. Federal law prohibits donations from foreign nationals.
During the trial, prosecutors played phone recordings between Fortenberry and a donor-turned-informant, who warned the congressman that a donation from Lebanese-born Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagouri was likely. Fortenberry’s lawyers argued that she did not listen to the warning because of poor cellphone reception.
Fortenberry maintained his innocence, even issuing a retrospective rebuttal of the allegations before declaring in a video he filmed inside a 1963 Ford F-150 pickup, in which his wife and There were dogs. He also continued to campaign, condemning his prosecution as politically motivated and aired Advertisements attack against floods.
But as more details of the case became public, Fortenberry quickly lost support among Nebraska’s top Republicans. Gov. Pete Ricketts and ex-Gov. Dave Heinman dealt a big blow when they backed Flood,
Flood was mostly positive, airing several light-hearted commercials, including one in which he described himself as a conservative “nerd” who would get Washington to work.
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Mellie reported from Los Angeles.