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Nebraska district to play pivotal role in Biden-Trump rematch

The results of a single congressional district in Nebraska could be critical to determining the outcome of this year’s presidential election in what will likely be an extremely tight race.

The Cornhusker State’s unique system awards an electoral vote in presidential elections to the winner of each of its three congressional districts, in addition to the winner of the statewide result. Unlike the rest of the ruby-red state, the 2nd Congressional District, which includes the Omaha area, has been a swing district in recent elections and could very well be the tipping point for whoever wins in November.

Strategists said both President Biden and former President Trump will likely keep an eye on the district and may invest time there as the election approaches in order to give themselves a seemingly small but crucial advantage in the race to 270.

“You get a lot of attention from the candidates who are running for top office in America because this one is up for grabs,” said Ryan Horn, an Omaha-based Republican media strategist.

Nebraska has distributed its electoral votes through this system since 1992, but it has only been electorally relevant in the past few presidential election years. The first time Nebraska’s electoral votes were split came in 2008, when then-candidate Barack Obama (D) narrowly defeated the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2nd District by little more than 1 point.

Before then, all of Nebraska’s electoral votes had gone to Republican candidates for decades. The district comfortably voted for Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) in 2012 and was in play in 2016, but Trump held on to narrowly win the district over Hillary Clinton.

It then flipped back to blue in 2020 to comfortably vote for Biden by more than 6 points.

Observers expect the 2024 race will likely come down to just about a half-dozen states that are the most closely divided. And a race as close as this one could end up hanging on the 2nd District.

Horn noted that both Trump and now-first lady Jill Biden visited the district late in the election season in 2020, underscoring the importance of a district with an estimated population of about 650,000.

Only one scenario in the Electoral College likely exists where the result of the district could directly decide the winner of the election. If Biden wins Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, while Trump wins Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina, Biden would be just one vote short of victory at 269.

Maine is the only other state other than Nebraska that distributes electoral votes by congressional district. Maine is mostly a blue state, but its 2nd Congressional District voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020.

If that district votes for Trump again, then Nebraska’s 2nd District would be key. If it votes for Biden, then he wins; but if it votes for Trump, the candidates would be tied at 269-269, and the House would decide the election.

Even though that situation is unlikely, experts said the vote is one both candidates want in their column.

“It’s not important enough to spend a whole bunch of time worrying about it and campaigning for it, but it is important enough that you can’t ignore it,” said Paul Landow, a former executive director of the Nebraska Democratic Party.

But the district could be skipped entirely in presidential politics if some Nebraska Republicans are successful in their effort to convert the state to a winner-take-all system, which most other states use. Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen (R) endorsed a bill to change the system earlier this month, and Trump quickly praised him for backing the legislation.

Proponents of the bill initially expressed optimism at being able to change the system ahead of November, but the bill failed a key procedural vote last month before the legislative session ended, and its prospects are uncertain.

Vince Powers, a former Democratic state party chair, said he expects the district to vote for Biden again this year. He pointed to a rift within the GOP in the district, with the Republican Party of Douglas County, where Omaha is located, endorsing a right-wing primary opponent to Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), a more moderate Republican representing the district in the House, and censuring Bacon last week without approval from the party chair.

Powers said Biden will be the favorite to take it again and that Republican infighting will only hurt the GOP.

“I just can’t see that big of a lead suddenly changing when you have a divided Republican Party,” he said, referring to Biden’s win in the district in 2020.

He added that he expects a “concentrated” effort from the Biden campaign to win the district again.

Horn said he does not think the effort to change the voting system will be successful but called it “shortsighted” for what is best for Nebraska.

“It’s good that we have attention from both parties once every four years at the top race in the country,” Horn said.

Landow said he doesn’t expect Biden or Trump to spend much time in the district but expects both men to travel there at least once before Election Day. He said splitting off a congressional district from the rest of the state is relatively rare historically in presidential races, but taking the vote is still appealing.

He added that Republicans have tried to change the state’s voting system in the past and will likely continue trying until they are successful or run out of time.

“That’s just kind of a way of life around here,” Landow said. “There’s a fight over the blue dot every so often.”

Source: The Hill

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