Nebraska district could prove pivotal for Biden in November

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden appears poised to flip Nebraska’s critical 2nd Congressional District in November, giving Democrats hope in a red state that doles out Electoral College votes per congressional district.

A poll conducted for the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) PAC released this week showed Biden with support from 53 percent of likely voters in the district, while Trump garnered 42 percent support.

Additionally, a New York Times/Siena College survey released last week showed 48 percent of likely voters in the district said they support Biden, while only 41 percent said the same about President Trump.

Democrats first grew optimistic in the historically red district when former President Obama narrowly won it during his presidential run in 2008, in which it was dubbed “Obamaha.” However, then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won the district by 7 points four years later in 2012.

Trump narrowly grasped the district in 2016, defeating-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by two percentage points in the area. Four years later, the district poses yet another vulnerability for Trump.

While the district would only provide the winner with one electoral vote, it could end up making a difference in what many predict to be a tight election.

“In previous presidential elections, my response has been ‘yeah, right,’” said Kevin Smith, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “In 2020, who knows, it’s kind of a crazy year.”

Most states use a “winner-take-all” method when it comes to electoral votes, meaning the candidate who wins the popular vote in the state gets all of its electoral votes as well. But Nebraska and Maine use a different method, in which two electoral votes are distributed to the popular-vote winner in the state, in addition to one electoral vote to whoever wins the popular vote in each of the state’s congressional districts.

Observers say Nebraska’s 2nd district, which is home to the Omaha and Council Bluffs metropolitan area, as well suburban parts of Sarpy County, reflect the national trend of suburban voters moving away from the Republican Party.

“What you’ve got there is you’ve got a big urban district, there’s a lot of suburban voters there, there’s a lot of swing voters there and that is the demographic that seems to be moving away from the president right now,” Smith said.

Additionally, the area is home to a number of large corporations, tech startups and the University of Nebraska Omaha.

“Biden just fits the district,” said Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party. “There’s obviously definitely progressive voters in the 2nd Congressional, but there’s a lot of moderate voters. I think when people think of Nebraska, they think of mostly [agriculture], and obviously our state is mostly [agriculture] but the second congressional district is Fortune 500 companies and tech start-ups. It’s the hipster tattoo shops, and then the historic cultural Black stores as well.”

“It’s a kind of beautiful snapshot of America,” she added.

The district’s congressional race between incumbent Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) and progressive Democratic candidate Kara Eastman could also stand to impact the race at the presidential level on Election Day.

“Generally speaking, if Biden ends up winning the 2nd Congressional District, then he will take Kara Eastman with him,” said Paul Landow, the former executive director of the state’s Democratic Party and a professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha.

The CPC poll showed Eastman narrowly leading Bacon by a 47-45 percent margin, while last week’s New York Times-Siena College poll showed Bacon leading Eastman by a margin of 45 percent to 43 percent.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the race as a “toss-up.”

The contest marks a rematch for the two candidates. Eastman narrowly lost to Bacon by 2 points in 2018, giving Democrats hope for their future chances in the district.

Kleeb said that unlike in 2018, when Eastman relied heavily on the progressive national infrastructure, she is now working hand in hand with the party in an effort to broaden her support.

“There’s two words that would describe what’s happening on the ground here, and it’s definitely unity and enthusiasm,” Kleeb said. “We haven’t seen the state party, county party, our candidates and the national party unified like this, all rowing in the same direction. The last time was 2008.”

However, others are skeptical about the unity on the ground, pointing to questions over Eastman’s progressive credentials and whether she can win over the district’s more conservative voters.

“When people say the Democratic Party is unified, it might be a little bit of a stretch given what’s going on on the ground,” Smith said.

In fact, former Rep. Brad Ashford (Neb.), once Bacon’s Democratic rival,  formally endorsed him over Eastman this week, arguing that “more than ever we need unifiers not dividers in Congress.”

Republicans say that a victory for Bacon in the district would ultimately help Trump at the top of the ticket.

“That race is probably closer than it should be,” said a Nebraska-based Republican strategist. “It’s going to be very close, but Bacon, I think, is going to come out and top, and that is going to help Trump to some extent.”

There’s also the question of whether Eastman could bring down Biden if the GOP is successful with painting Eastman, Biden and the rest of the ticket as being too far to the left.

“She’s considered radical for this district,” the GOP strategist said. “She does a good job of masking it, but she’s a radical.”

However, there is also the chance voters will split the ticket, casting votes for both Biden and Bacon rather than Eastman.

“There’s a lot of talk in the 2nd District, especially in Sarpy County, about people that are going to vote for Biden because they can’t cope with Trump anymore but are way too Republican to allow themselves to vote for Eastman,” Landow said.

Regardless of the outcome in November, the congressional race in the district is likely to be a toss-up in the years to come.

“Let’s just say that Biden wins the congressional district, or he doesn’t, but let’s say that Eastman does. What happens two years from now?” Landow said. “If you look at the history of this district, even when a Democrat gets elected, it’s really difficult to get reelected.” 

Tags Brad Ashford Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Mitt Romney Nebraska
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