LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A special election in Nebraska would be an easy win for House Republicans. Instead, it was the most exciting race in decades in the GOP-dominated district, boosting confidence among Democrats in hopes of boosting voters by tapping into public outcry over the US Supreme Court’s abortion ruling.
Republicans still won the open seat as expected, but the margin surprised even some Democrats who have grown accustomed to lopsided, morally crushing defeats.
Republican Mike Flood defeated Democrat Patty Pansing Brooks with 53.2% of the vote in Tuesday’s special election, according to unofficial results. Pansing Brooks got 46.8%, with a total of less than 7,200 votes separating the candidates. The win was the smallest in decades in the Republican, mostly rural, 1st Congressional District, which has not elected a Democrat to the House since 1964.
“It was an exciting result,” said Danielle Conrad, a former Lincoln Democratic state legislator. “Patty far surpassed conventional wisdom. I don’t think anyone expected her to perform so well in such a difficult district.”
Flood and Pansing Brooks vie to replace disgraced former US Representative Jeff Fortenberry, a Republican who routinely claimed at least 60% of the vote in his district before he was convicted in March on charges that he lied to FBI agents about an illegal campaign donation.
fortbes resigned shortly after a jury found him guilty and was… probationary sentence Tuesday in a federal court in Los Angeles. His departure left a vacancy to be filled before the November general election.
In the closing days of the campaign, Pansing Brooks emphasized her support for abortion rights in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that prevented states from banning the procedure.
She criticized the court’s decision as an attack on privacy and appeared at crowded abortion rights rallies and on street corners, where her supporters put up signs that read, “Horn for choice, vote for Patty.”
In a recent campaign speech, she said the elections were “the first day across the country where we can fight back at the polls”.
Meanwhile, Flood spent the final days of his campaign promising to fight inflation and pinpoint the race as crucial for Republicans to win back a majority of the House and block the Biden administration’s policy agenda.
Flood and Pansing Brooks will face off again in November to determine who will serve a full term starting in January 2023. Pansing Brooks campaign manager Chris Triebsch said the ruling has “created a lot of momentum” that their team hopes to achieve next game.
“We are ecstatic to be where we are,” Triebsch said. “Obviously this gives us a really good roadmap into November to see where we can invest and improve.”
Adrienne Elrod, a Democratic political strategist who worked on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, said the Nebraska race was a sign of energy among Democrats after the Supreme Court ruling last week.
Pansing Brooks was “a really strong candidate and she really took advantage of the moment,” Elrod said, making it clear she would fight for abortion rights in Congress.
Elrod said national Democratic groups should view the race as a signal of momentum and consider investing in places where they don’t normally think the outlook is favourable.
“I think they see this as a clock in a very positive way,” she said.
On Tuesday night, Flood Pansing Brooks overflowed into every rural county in the district.
But in Lancaster County, which includes progressive Lincoln, Pansing Brooks beat him by a healthy margin. Lancaster County provided nearly 75% of its total votes. The race was also tight in part of the district that encompasses suburban Omaha, which Flood narrowly won.
The 1st congressional district became a little less Republican in 2021 after state lawmakers redesigned Nebraska’s congressional districts, but the GOP still has a huge advantage. According to the Secretary of State for Nebraska, the district has nearly 68,000 more Republicans than Democrats. And the Democratic power in Lincoln is more than offset by dozens of smaller, conservative cities that are generally against abortion.
The results also surprised national Democrats. Tim Persico, the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the Nebraska race was “not on our priority list” because it was not seen as competitive. He said losing narrowly to Pansing Brooks in a district that is still firmly Republican — and outperforming Biden there in 2020 — is “extremely unusual.”
“I think she deserves a lot of credit,” said Persico. “And I also just think it’s a data point that might be shifting the environment.”
Persico said the DCCC will evaluate whether they want to run in the general election, but Nebraska’s results were not enough to revise their current strategy.
“I think we’re pretty focused on the map we have now,” he said. “But when people actually vote, especially post-Roe, this is a pretty interesting data point.”
Flood, who lives 120 miles north of Lincoln in Republican Norfolk, said he was grateful to have won in the district. He was a staunch opponent of abortion and said he would be a conservative advocate for the district, but acknowledged that he needs to bolster his support around Lincoln and the suburbs of Omaha.
“I recognize that I have work to do,” he said.
Price reported from New York.
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