As elections draw near, individual donors, volunteers buoy 1st Congressional District race

Oct. 21, 2022, 11:36 a.m. ·

State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln and State Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk
State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln and U.S. Rep. Mike Flood of Norfolk. (Photos courtesy campaigns)

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Ellen Wilson is a 34-year-old medical billing specialist in Lincoln. This election cycle, she donated $25 to the congressional campaign of Democrat Patty Pansing Brooks. She liked her past work in the legislature and her support of abortion protections.

“Every woman that I know is mad about this. And like, that's a lot,” Wilson said.

She represents one of the hundreds of individual donations that flooded the campaigns of 1st District candidates this election cycle. Wilson donated despite recognizing the challenges Democrats have had in the 1st District which includes Lincoln, Papillion, and rural areas in the eastern part of the state.

“I hate to say it, but I kind of don't have a whole lot of faith for actually, you know, having a Democratic representative,” said Wilson. “But at the same time, it's like, you know, it's at least something worth a shot.”

From the beginning of the year to the end of September Pansing Brooks raised close to $1.5 million, while incumbent Republican Mike Flood reported raising nearly $1.9 million.

Dr. Kevin Smith is the chair of the department of political science at the University of Nebraska Lincoln and said Pansing Brooks numbers are impressive for a Democrat in the 1st District, especially in the waning days of the election cycle.

“People are putting a lot of money into that campaign, they're investing in it,” said Smith. “Those sorts of numbers are only raised if there's a lot of people who think that there is at least, even if it's an outside chance,” said Smith

Smith noted that Flood’s fundraising is also impressive. But, he said it’s more typical of Nebraska conservatives but it’s still a lot of money.

“That's reflective of Congressman Flood having an awful lot of grassroots support in the district that he currently represents,” said Smith.

In a sign of how expensive the 1st District race has become, Flood has spent 1.6 million, outspending Pansing Brooks by about $400,000.

With days to go before the election, Smith said most people have already made up their minds about who they want to vote for, and so the game has switched from persuasion to turnout.

“And money can definitely help there,” said Smith. “You know, midterm elections, you tend to see lower turnout than during the presidential election cycle. Especially on the Democratic side, turning out favorable voters has going to be huge.”

However, money isn’t the only way that people are showing support for their candidates. With both federal abortion restrictions and protections being floated in Washington, grassroots support may also have a leading role in the story of who comes out on top.

Sandy Danek is executive director for Nebraska Right to Life, a PAC with chapters around the state that supports candidates who favor abortion restrictions. She said that her PAC doesn’t give money directly to candidates. But since Roe v. Wade was overturned she’s seen a surge of people wanting to get involved in the midterms as volunteers.

“We've had just an enormous response from pro-life, people asking for, you know, more information. What can they do to volunteer? How can they help?” said Danek.

Danek said her PAC’s extensive network of grassroots volunteers, gathered through decades of effort, is just as valuable as money, if not more so. She noted volunteers do everything from distributing campaign material to arranging meet-and-greets.

Multiple requests for comment by Democratic-leaning PACs Planned Parenthood of Nebraska and Women Who Run Ne about their grassroots efforts were not returned in time for publication.

Election Day is November 8th.