Due to heavy campaigning by the Democratic Party and Barack Obama’s campaign presence in Omaha, Nebraska’s 2nd District gave its electoral vote to the Democratic candidate on Friday. This is the first time Nebraska has split its electoral vote in the 16 years since the state switched from the winner-take-all system.
Nebraska is one of only two states that can split its electoral votes, Maine being the other state. Although both states have this capability, neither has ever split its electoral votes until now. Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District includes all of Douglas County and parts of Sarpy County. The majority of the district is located in the Omaha metropolitan area.
An early sign that the district might vote in Barack Obama’s favor was the increase in voter registration for the Democratic Party in Douglas County. According to the Douglas County Election Commission, the Democratic Party increased its numbers to 127,158 voters, up 2,300 since 2004. The Republican Party on the other hand decreased its numbers by 9,500 voters to 123,505. Registered independents and other parties also increased by almost 4,000 voters to 61,069. This is the first time since 1994 that Democrats have outnumbered Republicans in Douglas County.
A major contribution to the increase in registered Democrats this year was the presence of Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama. Although Nebraska has not voted for a Democratic candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, Obama set up three offices in Omaha with 16 paid staffers. He spent more than $2 million dollars on campaigning, voter registration drives and get-out-the-vote drives. One of the campaign’s biggest focuses was early voting, which seems to be what put Obama over the top.
“One of the objectives for the campaign was to get people to vote early by mail,” said Cailan O’Grady, a Creighton University student who volunteered for the Democratic Party in Omaha. “That way we could make sure that more people voted, and it would also make the number of people we needed to make sure got to the polls on election day less.”
The people in Omaha and surrounding areas were receptive to Obama’s message, said Christine Dobel, a registered Democrat from Omaha. “Being previously a highly conservative state, people changed their political standpoints because what came of a conservative leadership was obviously not very lucrative,” Dobel said. “They want to fix what has been broken, and they believe that the way to do this is to do the opposite of what was being done.”
One Republican politician jumped on this trend and used it to his advantage. Lee Terry, the Republican incumbent for the 2nd District Congressional seat, started using an ad late in the campaign highlighting the idea of an Obama-Terry voter. “Our plan all along has been to appeal to voters across the board,” said Terry spokesperson Lisa Ellis. “We try to get Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike.”
On election night, Republican John McCain ended up with a lead of 569 votes over Democrat Barack Obama. With absentee and provisional ballots yet to be counted, the election commission decided not to call the vote. On Friday, it was announced that Obama had won 8,434 of the 15,039 mail-in ballots that could not be counted Tuesday night. This gave Obama a 1,260-vote lead over McCain, enough for the election commission to call the 2nd District in Obama’s favor.
However, the Democrats only picked up one other seat in the election, a county commissioner seat. David Bywater, chairman of the Douglas County Republican Party, did not see the influx of Democrats registered or Obama’s electoral win as much of a threat. “We might change our message a little bit, but we see no reason for a major overhaul in our positions.”