When thinking of the United States, the mind’s eye may conjure up images of Venice Beach in Los Angeles, the Empire State Building in New York City, or the White House itself, of course, located in Washington D.C. However, what many both inside and outside the U.S. might overlook is what is colloquially referred to as ‘flyover country’ – the landlocked states, with no coastal region, and culturally significant cities or hotspots of note. However, unlike thinking about where you want to visit in the United States, when looking at a U.S. Presidential Election, you have to consider every single state. In this article, I will be examining the state of Nebraska and the potential for peculiarity that it could throw up in November.
Nebraska, the 37th state to be admitted to the Union as well as being the 37th most populous state in the U.S., is often overlooked when imaging the U.S. Being far from the coast, it is the only state in the U.S. which is triple landlocked, meaning that to reach an ocean, one must travel through at least three other states. As the home of Warren Buffett, Malcolm X and the lion’s share of the U.S.'s corn and livestock production, there is a lot of love about this forgotten state.
As I alluded to in the introduction, Nebraska has a lot of interesting political characteristics. For one, Nebraska is home to the only unicameral (single-chamber) legislature in the U.S., with all others bicameral (an upper chamber & a lower chamber). Furthermore, the Nebraska legislature is nonpartisan, meaning that formal party affiliations are not recognised. In practice, all but one of the Senators with seats in Nebraska’s legislature is affiliated to one of either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, but it is not formally recognised, and party primaries are not allowed to take place before the general election. For the curious, the Nebraska legislature’s 49 seats break down into 30 Republican-affiliates, 18 Democratic-affiliates and 1 Independent. Interestingly, the one sitting Independent is a gentleman by the name of Ernie Chambers, a former civil rights activist, known as the Maverik of Omaha. He represents the predominantly black region of northern Omaha and has done since 1970.
All that said, you are here to read about the role of Nebraska in the upcoming Presidential Election, not their state legislature. Well, Nebraska brings its distinctive electoral eccentricity to the Presidential Elections too. Unlike 48 of the other 50 states, winning the state of Nebraska does not automatically award you with the states entire Electoral College electors (which amounts to a not-so-whopping 5 electors). Rather, by winning the state, a candidate is awarded 2 electors, with the other 3 to be awarded based on the winner of Nebraska’s 3 Congressional districts. In practice, this means that the state can award 3 electors to one candidate, and 2 to another, or 4:1, or 5:0. This did not happen in 2016 when all of Nebraska and its 3 Congressional districts went to Donald Trump. It did, however, last happen in 2008, after the Obama campaign identified NE-02 as being “in play” and targeted it with campaign ads and Senatorial campaigners on behalf of the Obama campaign. The final results showed that Obama carried NE-02 by 1.22%, giving him one extra Electoral College elector, in an election he ultimately won by a rather comfortable margin (365:173).
One elector can make all the difference
One never knows how an election will go, even right up to the day of. As I pointed out in my last article in this series, using the example of Florida in the Election of 2000, every vote could be the vote that decides the outcome of the election, on who is President, and who is reduced to a few lines in the history books of tomorrow. As you know if you’ve read the previous two instalments of this series (Michigan and Florida), I love the website 270towin, and below, you will find a hastily made example of a situation in which the fate of the Presidential election is decided by NE-02.
Whilst it remains unlikely that NE-02 will ever be the decider of a U.S. Presidential Election (especially looking at the current polling), it remains entirely possible.
What does the current polling tell us about Nebraska and NE-02?
Well, due to Nebraska being a fairly safe state for the Republican Party, there are little-to-no reliable polls being conducted in Nebraska – much less for NE-02. However, two reporters, Ally Mutnick of Politico and Aaron Navarro of CBS News, both tweeted on May the 13th of an independent poll conducted by the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) that Biden was +11% ahead of Trump. However, due to the nature of these polls being internal, they are not widely available to the public, and therefore cannot be verified. However, I would feel comfortable trusting these polls to a certain extent, were they verifiable. It is not in the interests of the DCCC to inflate their own chances in a poll, pouring money and resources into that district, only to lose it, because you had no real chance from the beginning.
So, it’s fairly safe to assume Nebraska’s going red, now what?
Well, the objective of this state spotlight wasn’t so much to look at a contentious state, as it was to unpick the possibilities behind this split electoral vote system. If the DCCC’s poll is to be trusted, we could be looking at a largely red state, with a tiny blue enclave on its eastern side. We’ve seen it before, in 2008, and with the right resources allocated, we could see it again in 2020. Whether the Biden campaign will attempt to fight for what is, ultimately, a single electoral college vote, remains to be seen. However, given his lead in the polls as things stand, I feel as though allocating resources away from maintaining that lead, and risking overextending, in order to win one measly district, worth one point, is an unlikely event. Biden would be much better served by strengthening his lead in the battleground states, like Florida and Michigan, and reaching for a few more should he feel comfortable in doing so – all the while preparing for the chaos of facing a Trump re-election campaign.
Keep your eyes on the prize, Joe.
You may feel a bit cheated after having read this, but the reality is that not every state is as red hot as Florida or Michigan – some are just red. And you can take it as read that Nebraska is staying in Republican hands. I wouldn’t be surprised if NE-02 went blue, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it followed the lead of their fellow Nebraskans. If I had to come down on one side, I would say that NE-02 will fall slightly on the Republican side, while wider Nebraska is deep red. Below, you will find the updated State Spotlight map, which will be updated with every instalment of the series.
The State Spotlight Map, As It Stands...
Democrats: Light Blue (State leaning Democratic), Medium Blue (State likely Democratic), Dark Blue (State almost certainly Democratic)
Republicans: Light Red (State leaning Republican), Medium Red (State likely Republican), Dark Red (State almost certainly Republican)
Other: Dark Gold (Uncertain which way a state may go), State Showing More Than One Colour (State awards EC Votes through mixed district system)