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Mike Johanns makes it official

October 14, 2007 | 11:54 am

Mike Johanns, the genial, easygoing former mayor, former governor and former Agriculture secretary, is now the newest Senate candidate.

The former Democrat turned Republican announced his candidacy for the Senate seat currently held by maverick Republican Chuck Hagel, retiring next year at the end of his current term.

"It is time to restore the people's trust in a government that, in my judgment, has strayed too far from conservative values," Johanns said in his announcement.

Johanns resigned from his Agriculture post last month, to the delight of Republicans. Strong Senate candidates like Johanns with proven popularity and existing statewide name recognition are harder to find these days than Agriculture secretaries. Over the last 50 years no state has voted more consistently for GOP presidential candidates than Nebraska, but voters there have leaned more toward Democratic senators recently.

Johanns faces a couple of GOP primary challengers -- Atty. Gen. Jon Bruning and Hal Daub, a former Omaha mayor and congressman. And former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey is said by some to be pondering a comeback. But Johanns, who won the governorship last time with 69% of the vote, gives Republicans an excellent chance of hanging on to that Senate seat, one of 34 up for election in November 2008, fully 22 of them to be defended by Republicans.

--Andrew Malcolm