One of the more interesting and significant developments in this year’s legislative session was the failure of the Nebraska GOP to ram through a bill returning Nebraska’s electoral vote law to the previous winner take all system. That previous law made Nebraska completely irrelevant in the Presidential general election. A Democratic led filibuster stopped the party bosses of the Nebraska GOP and preserved Nebraska CD02 as a battleground in this year’s general election.
Nebraska’s nearly unique electoral vote law originated in 1991. The law change that allowed Nebraska to split it’s electoral vote was passed in 1991 and signed into law by then Governor Ben Nelson. It passed the Unicameral by a narrow 25-23 vote margin. At that time there were twenty one Democratic Senators and thus the bill had the support of three Republicans and one independent. (One of the Republicans who voted for the split electoral vote law was current Democratic U.S. House Representative Brad Ashford.)
The Nebraska GOP was so infuriated by this change that one of their Senators would introduce a bill every session to restore the winner take all system and return Nebraska to the status of fly over country. At the present time, the GOP has tried (and failed) 15 times to change the 1991 law. The GOP continued to persist in these partisan efforts despite the fact the GOP nominee swept all of five of Nebraska’s electoral votes in four consecutive cycles between 1992 and 2004.
In 2008, after building a successful organization in Nebraska for the caucuses, the Obama campaign targeted the electoral vote in Nebraska CD02 during the general election. David Plouffe – Obama’s 2008 campaign manager – said that the Omaha centric district was “my personal favorite target.” In Plouffe’s excellent book, “The Audacity To Win,” he mentioned that one “national scenario envisioned an electoral-college tie, and the single vote from Nebraska could have made a difference. Plouffe wrote that he had “mused to Obama” about the possibility. “Plouffe, that’s interesting daydreaming,” Obama said with a laugh. “Let’s try not to have it all come down to Nebraska 2.”
The Obama campaign’s decision to compete in Nebraska CD02 made our state relevant in the general election for the first time since 1964. Hillary Clinton came to Omaha to campaign for then Senator Obama. The GOP followed up Clinton’s visit with a campaign stop by Sarah Palin. As it turned out, Obama carried CD02 by the narrow margin of 3,325 votes. It was the first time a Democratic nominee had picked up an electoral vote in Nebraska since LBJ carried Nebraska in his 1964 landslide victory over Barry Goldwater.
President Obama’s re-election campaign didn’t compete in Nebraska CD02 in 2012 because it was a tougher cycle than 2008. Due to the five GOP appointees’ decision in Citizens United, the GOP had much more money to spend during the 2012 cycle than it did in 2008. This forced the Obama campaign to focus on traditional battle ground states like Ohio, Virginia and Colorado.
Because the GOP will put up a crippled and deeply unpopular nominee this fall, it is expected that the eventual Democratic nominee will compete in Nebraska CD02 this year. This will also have the impact of helping Democrats like Brad Ashford in down ballot races. That is one the reasons why the Nebraska GOP was so insistent upon returning to the winner take all system.
The Nebraska GOP has correctly perceived that Trump or Cruz probably can’t carry CD02 Moreover, the Nebraska GOP has also figured out that Brad Ashford is most likely to be re-elected this fall. It was that lack of confidence in their candidates that led them to make this 15th attempt to change our electoral vote law.
The Nebraska GOP party bosses don’t only lack confidence in their candidates, they are also embarrassed by Trump and Cruz – and don’t want them in Nebraska. As Nebraska Democratic Party chair Vince Powers said: “Nebraska Republicans recognized that they do not have a qualified Presidential candidate who could win the 2d CD this November so they tried once again to change the rules. True Nebraskans love our unique state with its Unicameral and the electoral college split. The Nebraska GOP party bosses are desperate to keep Trump or Cruz from campaigning in Nebraska this fall. These are sad days for a once-proud political party as it descends into the chaos created by FOX News and hate radio’s constant angry badmouthing of America. This fall a Democrat will win the 2d CD as a result of a positive, enthusiastic campaign which will champion the greatness of America. ”
This lack of confidence and sheer embarrassment weren’t the only reasons for the Nebraska GOP’s attempt to change the rules in the middle of the game. The Nebraska GOP is also motivated by arrogance and the raw partisanship that generates. The Nebraska GOP is still mad that President Obama carried CD02’s electoral vote in 2008. This deep seated hatred of the President of the United States motivated 32 GOP Nebraska State Senators to attempt to give Nebraskans no say in the 2016 general election.
We Nebraska Democrats need to thank the Democratic State Senators who stood up to the Nebraska GOP’s party bosses and allowed the actual voters to decide the outcome of the Presidential election in Nebraska CD02. I’m very confident that our nominee will carry CD02 this November and pull many of our Democratic candidates across the finish line. We are positioned to have an excellent cycle this year. Let’s get it done! I know we can do it!