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The Nebraska District is Positioned to Wield Considerable Influence in the Upcoming Rematch Between Biden and Trump

Biden and Trump
Biden and Trump (Credits: CTV News)

The outcome of the presidential election this year could hinge on the results of a single congressional district in Nebraska, due to the state’s unique system of awarding electoral votes.

Unlike the rest of the predominantly Republican state, the 2nd Congressional District, which encompasses the Omaha area, has been a swing district in recent elections and could be the tipping point in November.

Nebraska has distributed its electoral votes through this system since 1992, but it has only been electorally relevant in a few presidential elections.

The first time Nebraska’s electoral votes were split was in 2008, when Barack Obama narrowly defeated John McCain in the 2nd District. Before then, all of Nebraska’s electoral votes had gone to Republican candidates for decades.

The district comfortably voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and was in play in 2016, but Trump narrowly won the district over Hillary Clinton. It then flipped back to blue in 2020, with Biden winning by more than 6 points.

Observers expect the 2024 race to come down to a handful of closely divided states, and a race as close as this one could hang on the 2nd District. Both Trump and Jill Biden visited the district late in the election season in 2020, underscoring its importance.

Advocates of the Bill Initially Conveyed Hopefulness about Reforming the System Before November

Only one scenario in the Electoral College 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 that distributes electoral votes by congressional district. If Maine’s 2nd Congressional District votes for Trump again, then Nebraska’s 2nd District would be key. If it votes for Biden, he wins; but if it votes for Trump, the candidates would be tied at 269-269, and the House would decide the election.

Although this scenario is unlikely, experts say 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.

However, 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 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 about changing 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, expects the district to vote for Biden again this year, citing a rift within the GOP in the district.

Biden and Trump Campaigns (Credits: CNN)

Powers pointed to the Republican Party of Douglas County endorsing a right-wing primary opponent to Rep. Don Bacon, a more moderate Republican representing the district in the House, and censuring Bacon last week without approval from the party chair. “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 expects a “concentrated” effort from the Biden campaign to win the district again. Ryan Horn, an Omaha-based Republican media strategist, doesn’t think the effort to change the voting system will be successful but calls 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 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 says 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 adds 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.”

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