LINCOLN, Neb. — Election officials reported long lines but no major problems at polling places across the state on Tuesday as thousands of Nebraskans cast their ballots for president, their new U.S. senator and whether to retain three incumbent members of the House.
Secretary of State communications director Laura Strimple said statewide turnout was projected to be 71 percent but that it was too early to tell whether the projection would be hit. There were reports of a heavy turnout by midday, she said.
"The people are conducting themselves appropriately at the polls," she said. "Sometimes we don't hear about problems cropping up until after the election. But so far everything looks good."
In the run-up to the election, Republican Deb Fischer and Democrat Bob Kerrey called on some of the biggest names in Nebraska politics to show voters the type of U.S. senator they would be. The race, which appeared to be tightening as the campaigning period waned, was among the races that got the most attention in Nebraska before Election Day.
Fischer is "a conservative in the mold of Sen. (Mike) Johanns and Gov. (Dave) Heineman," her campaign manager said. On the stump, the 61-year-old state senator from Valentine pointed to an early endorsement from former GOP Gov. Kay Orr, the first woman to hold statewide office in Nebraska.
Kerrey, the former governor and two-term senator, touted himself as a Nebraska-first independent, unafraid to challenge members of his own party.
The outcome of Tuesday's Senate race could have national repercussions as Republicans hope to take control of the chamber, even though national polls have left Democrats optimistic they'll retain the majority. Nebraska voters also are determining whether to re-elect the state's three Republican House members and will consider four ballot measures.
Rich Stites arrived at First Christian Church in Lincoln just as the doors opened. The 70-year-old independent said he voted for Romney and Fischer because he is worried about the nation's debt.
"It's not that they will make it all go away," said Stites, a retired state employee. "I just have a sense that they'll be more prone to limit any increases in the cost of government."
Nikki Miller, of Lincoln, hurried out of the church on her way to work. The 40-year-old said she voted for Obama and Kerrey because they will do more to help the working class.
"I'm not rich, and I think they do a better job looking out for my interests," she said.
Both Senate candidates seized on key political endorsements as recent polls indicated a tighter race.
On Monday, Fischer stood beside the widely popular Republican Gov. Dave Heineman for at least the sixth time in a week. Heineman has repeatedly assured voters they can trust Fischer in the U.S. Senate. She also relied on the support of Johanns, Nebraska's Republican senator, and Nebraska's three GOP representatives.
"I think it can be an indicator — not all the time — but it can be an indicator of the type of politician that somebody is going to end up being," said Fischer campaign manager Aaron Trost.
Kerrey, meanwhile, scored a political coup when former GOP U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel endorsed him last week. Hagel, a Republican, said Kerrey, 69, was the best choice to break the partisan "nonsense that's literally strangling our country."
Kerrey is also backed by former GOP Sens. Alan Simpson, of Wyoming, Warren Rudman, of New Hampshire, as well as Connecticut independent Sen. Joe Lieberman.
"I think Kerrey did a good job when he was in office here, but my biggest problem with him was that he lived away from here for more than 10 years, and suddenly the week before registration ends, he's living here supposedly," said Jan Paulson, 75, a Republican retiree in Omaha.
"He doesn't know Nebraska anymore," Paulson said of Kerrey. "Fischer has lived and worked here. She's worked in the Legislature, and right now I think she's a better fit."
Twenty-year-old Matt Beckwith, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student, saw Kerrey's experience as a big plus.
"I just don't really like Deb Fischer, and Kerrey has done the job before," Beckwith said.
In other races, much attention has been on the Omaha-focused 2nd Congressional District, where Democrat John Ewing was trying to unseat seven-term Republican incumbent Lee Terry. They've campaigned on the need to balance the federal budget, with both candidates arguing that their pasts prove they're up to the task.Comment on this story
Democrats were challenging Nebraska's other two Republican representatives, but incumbents Jeff Fortenberry and Adrian Smith were expected to win easily because their districts are overwhelmingly Republican.
Voters also were filling 26 seats in the 49-member Nebraska Legislature. Republicans are guaranteed at least 24 seats next year, so the party only needs to win one of the 12 Democrat-vs.-Republican races to maintain control.
Four ballot measures are up for decisions. The proposals would, if passed, enshrine hunting and fishing in the state constitution, increase legislator pay, allow lawmakers to serve up to three terms and make it easier to impeach officials.
Funk and reporter Eric Olsen contributed to this report from Omaha, Neb.