Embattled Nebraska candidate vows to stay in Senate race

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Embattled Nebraska U.S. Senate hopeful Chris Janicek doubled down Monday on his refusal to bow out of the race, despite relentless pressure from the state Democratic Party after he admitted to sending sexually offensive text messages about a campaign employee.

Janicek reaffirmed his pledge to stay in the race during a press conference at his Omaha cupcake bakery. The Democratic nominee has until 5 p.m. Tuesday to request that state officials remove his name from the ballot, but he made clear that he has no plans to do so.

The Nebraska Democratic Party disavowed Janicek in June after he was caught sending sexually offensive messages about a campaign employee in a group text with other staffers.

The female contract staffer was accidentally included in the message and filed a complaint with the party. Janicek has said he apologized to the woman in a phone call, in person, and in writing, and that she accepted his apology. The woman has disputed Janicek’s account, saying she doesn’t accept his apology and maintains that he should drop out of the race.

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“The text message was wrong. It was inappropriate. It was disgusting. It was meant to go to one person,” Janicek said. “I apologized immediately for it, over and over, ad nauseam. The text message should never have been sent.”

Janicek is challenging Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, who is seeking a second term. Janicek accepted the Democratic nomination in May after winning a seven-candidate primary race, but the odds of winning in November were against him in GOP-dominated Nebraska even before his party withdrew its support.

Janicek blasted the Nebraska Democratic Party in the press conference, noting that its membership has fallen to just 29% of the state’s registered voters. He said party officials met with him privately after his campaign employee filed the complaint and offered to let him drop out quietly, saying that he could cite health concerns as the reason. He said he refused.

After the scandal broke, the state party’s state central committee voted to endorse Alisha Shelton, an Omaha mental health practitioner who ran unsuccessfully against Janicek in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary.

Party leaders voted to endorse Shelton as a replacement nominee, but state law prevents them from removing Janicek’s name from the ballot without his consent. And because of Nebraska’s “sore loser” law, Shelton can’t run as a write-in candidate because she lost to Janicek in the primary.

The state party then voted to back former Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford, who represented the Omaha’s 2nd Congressional District for one term. Ashford wasn’t a candidate in the Democratic Senate primary and thus would have been able to run as a write-in candidate. But days after the endorsement, he reversed course and announced that he wouldn’t run for the Senate seat.

In a statement Monday, party officials said they would support a nominee “whose values represent our party,” no matter what Janicek decides. Janicek “is shameful and has no support of the Democratic Party,” said Nebraska Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb.

“Our party will make sure that voters across Nebraska have a strong choice in order to defeat Ben Sasse,” she said.

Shelton said the party deserves a nominee “with a moral compass,” who will listen to voters.

“Leaders are always willing to do the right thing, even if it is hard,” she said. “I am sad that Chris is not leading. Fellow Nebraskans are pleading with him to exit the race.”

Janicek ran for Senate once before, in 2018, but lost in the Democratic primary. He said he chose to run after having a heart attack in 2015 and getting slapped with more than $100,000 in medical bills that his insurance only partially covered.

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