COLUMBUS — Democratic Senate candidate Tony Raimondo said overcoming low name recognition with voters proved too tough a hurdle to clear while conceding the race to his rival Scott Kleeb just before 10 Tuesday night.
“I went from no name recognition to making some progress,’’ the Columbus industrialist said during brief remarks at his campaign’s post-election party at the New World Inn in Columbus.
The 68-year-old chairman of Behlen Mfg. Co. said the Senate campaign was a race he and his wife, Jean, had to make.
“We had to give it a shot and the voters have decided on a delightful young guy named Scott Kleeb,’’ Raimondo said in congratulating his 32-year-old rival.
Raimondo said Kleeb and senior state Sen. Ben Nelson, also a Democrat, will work together to help the nation’s working people and working families.
Raimondo walked hand-in-hand with his wife through a crowd of applauding supporters to the podium to thank his family, staff and supporters for their work on his campaign.
“I can’t thank all of you enough,’’ Raimondo said. “It’s been an incredible experience.”
Kleeb, a Hastings College professor with a Yale doctorate and time spent as a ranch hand, won easily. Kleeb put up an unexpectedly strong showing against Adrian Smith in the 3rd District two years ago.
Kleeb, 32, now will face former U.S. Agriculture Secretary and Mike Johanns in the contest to replace Republican Chuck Hagel, who isn't seeking re-election. The 57-year-old Johanns, also a former Nebraska governor, has already raised more than $2 million.
With 85 percent of precincts reporting, Kleeb led Raimondo with 68 percent of the vote. Johanns led political newcomer Pat Flynn with 78 percent.
Raimondo, a former Republican, said he'd endorse Kleeb and help him get elected, but he likely won't run again himself.
"He was way ahead of me … because of his jump-start in 2006," Raimondo said Tuesday. "That's what business is about — you win some, you lose some."
Johanns said he didn't take any votes for granted in the Republican race he was heavily favored to win.
"Tomorrow morning, we'll be working like we're 15 points behind and have two days to make it up," said Johanns, who was planning a statewide tour Wednesday with Republican Gov. Dave Heineman. The GOP duo were scheduled for an 8:30 a.m touchdown at the Columbus airport.
Flynn said he'll stay involved in politics.
"It's a learning curve, and we're learning pretty well," the Schuyler investment adviser said Tuesday.
Raimondo, 68, and Kleeb were battling for the Democratic nomination in a race that also included Larry Marvin of Fremont and James Bryan Wilson of Lincoln.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.