Nebraska's 2nd District A Target Again in Presidential Race

Sept. 14, 2016, 6:45 a.m. ·

Volunteers make calls at Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s Omaha campaign office. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)

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Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton thinks she can earn an electoral vote in traditionally Republican Nebraska. She’s targeting a congressional district that has gone blue in the past, hoping voters there will do what they did in 2008.

In a state that’s deep red, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary is betting big that she can turn at least part of it blue in November. She’s targeting Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, in essence greater Omaha, hoping to recreate what happened there in 2008.

Barack Obama walked away with one of the state’s five electoral votes in his first run for the White House, a rarity in Nebraska.

Some things have changed since then, but Clinton is still confident she’s spending money in the right place.

It didn’t take long for Clinton to make it clear the 2nd District is an important part of her election strategy. Just days after she became the Democratic presidential nominee, she stood on a stage at a high school in Omaha, right next to Warren Buffett.

“Thank you Omaha, thank you,” Clinton said. “And thank you Congressional District 2.”

Her shout-out to the 2nd District may seem out of place, but it actually makes sense.

Volunteer Cathy Biernbaum of Springfield, Nebraska at Hillary Clinton’s Omaha campaign office. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)

Nebraska is one of two states that doesn’t use the winner-take-all system when it comes to electoral votes. Two votes go to the overall winner in the state. The other three are given to the winner of the state’s three congressional districts.

In 2008, the 2nd District went to Barack Obama, the first time an electoral vote had gone to a Democrat in Nebraska since 1964.

Now, Hillary Clinton wants to recreate what happened eight years ago.

In a busy call center in Omaha, volunteers are on their phones, reaching out to potential voters in the 2nd District. Clinton’s campaign has opened this office and another one a few miles away.

They’re also spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on television ads in Omaha.

“We have a busy, buzzing volunteer operation here,” says LeMia Jenkins, the organizer of Clinton’s campaign efforts in Nebraska. “We have hundreds of people on the ground. I think the campaign has made a clear investment here.”

Although the 2nd District went to Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election, there is more recent evidence that Democrats may be making progress in and around Omaha.

In the 2014 congressional race, Democratic Representative Brad Ashford defeated the incumbent, Republican Lee Terry. Ashford is now in a tight race for re-election, facing Republican Don Bacon and Libertarian Steven Laird.

Paul Landow is in the political science department at the University of Nebraska Omaha. He thinks there’s likely a good reason why Hillary Clinton is spending time and money in the 2nd District.

“The strategy is only sound if you have empirical evidence that shows you you’ve got a realistic shot at winning,” Landow says. “I think they must or they wouldn’t be here.”

In the heart of the 2nd District, sitting in a hotel lobby in downtown Omaha, Douglas County Republican Party chair Jon Tucker doesn’t seem too concerned about Hillary Clinton’s efforts in eastern Nebraska.

Signs in the window of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s statewide campaign office in Lincoln. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)

“For one electoral vote, to spend that kind of money, it just shows, hey, we can get this district back. I don’t understand it,” Tucker says. “Looking at the dynamics with how supportive the Democrats were in this district for Bernie Sanders and how disaffected they are with Hillary Clinton, they’re looking at a weak candidate.”

Douglas County Democratic Party chair Crystal Rhoades is happy to have Hillary Clinton spending time and money in the 2nd District. She says it shows Democrats in Nebraska haven’t been forgotten and could play a role in November’s election.

“What she is doing here in CD 2 is saying I know it’s only one electoral vote, but it’s worth me trying to capture,” Rhoades says. “I’m (Clinton) not going to ignore Nebraska just because it’s going to be a really tight race and it’s a mostly red state.”

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has opened a statewide campaign office in Lincoln. His campaign had an office in Omaha ahead of the Republican primaries, but it has since closed.

During a visit to Omaha in May, a cheering crowd got exactly what it wanted, vintage Trump.

“We’re going to win, win, win and we’re going to make American great again” Trump said. “Thank you Nebraska. We love you.”

Trump is expected to win handily in Nebraska’s 1st and 3rd congressional districts in November and will most likely collect at least four of the five electoral votes from the state.

Because presidential polls shift by the day, Paul Landow with the University of Nebraska Omaha says any Clinton momentum in the 2nd District could change quickly.

“If Trump tightens the race, then the likelihood is she will not win this district,” Landow said.