The Roe Backlash Has Already Started—Even in “Red” Nebraska July 8, 2022
Politics, of course, is an extremely inexact discipline. It is very hard to determine how intensely voters will react to specific issues at the polls. Yes, the overwhelming majority of the country is furious about Justice Alito and his SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) majority overruling the nearly fifty -year precedent in the Roe v. Wade opinion that allowed women to have abortions. However, will the Trump-dominated GOP SCOTUS which issued this ruling get women, especially suburban voters in swing districts who were drifting away from Biden and his Democrats, back into the “Team Blue” camp? Will these voters consider GOPers overturning women’s rights more important than inflation, and, therefore, keep the House and Senate Democratic? One way of measuring views on this issue is to conduct focus groups of voters throughout the country and get their reactions. In a 7/05/2022 NY Times report written by Katie Gleuck, she noted that many voters in suburbs across the U.S. do not approve of Biden. However, some of those very same voters increasingly believe that GOPers have gone “too far to the right on a range of issues, particularly abortion (nytimes.com, 7/05/22).” This very same NY Times article mentions another way of measuring public opinion on the abortion issue—special elections. GOP strategist Whit Ayres noted that the abortion issue “might make some races closer than they would otherwise have been.” The Gleuck NY Times article noted that the Democratic candidate in a Nebraska special election that took place on 6/28/2022 , four days after SCOTUS’ 6/24/2022 reversal of Roe, did better than expected in a Nebraska GOP- leaning district where abortion was an issue (See nytimes.com, 7/05/22). Let’s look at this special election.
In this 6/28/2022 special election, Democratic State Senator Patty Pansing Brooks was in a race against GOP State Senator Mike Flood. This special election in the Cornhusker 1st was taking place to replace 9th term Republican Congressmember Jeff Fortenberry. Fortenberry resigned from Congress after a Los Angeles jury found last March that he was guilty of lying about a $30,000 campaign contribution made to him in 2016 by a foreign billionaire (nebraskapublicmedia.org, Padmore & Bauer, 6/28/22). The current 1st CD, redistricted in 2021, is located in eastern NE. It includes most of NE’s eastern quarter, except for Omaha and some of its suburbs. The new Cornhusker 1st covers much of fast-growing suburban Sarpy County, including the cities of Bellevue and Papillon. The NE 1st stretches all the way north to Norfolk and south to Columbus, Fremont, and Lincoln (Padmore & Bauer, nebraskapublicmedia.org, 6/28/22). Lincoln, located in Lancaster County, is the heart of this CD. The NE 1st was originally settled by Midwestern Yankee farmers as well as German immigrants . People from Luxembourg, the Czech area of Prague, and Sweden also came here. Today, Mexicans and Hispanics from the southwest U.S. have settled in the NE 1st. Farming is a strong economic pillar. Many of the Hispanics work in the 1st’s meatpacking factories. Lincoln is home to the University of Nebraska’s main campus, which receives many research grants that aid its scientific research. Lincoln has more than 100 companies and government agencies and has a strong manufacturing base. Costco has a chicken-processing plant in Fremont. Bellevue is home to Offutt Air Force Base, headquarters of the Strategic Air Command (Cohen & Cook 2022 Political Almanac). Politically, Lincoln likes moderate Democrats and along with Omaha’s Douglas County were the only two NE areas that voted for Joe Biden in 2020. The NE 1st , however, has a strong R+11 Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI). In both 2016 and 2020, Donald carried this CD taking 56% of the votes. No Democrat has been elected to Congress from the NE 1st since 1964 (Cohen & Cook, 2022).
Omaha native and GOPer Mike Flood (47) was raised in Norfolk. He received a 1997 undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame and a 2001 law degree from the University of Nebraska College of Law. Flood worked as a radio personality in Lincoln. As of 2017, he owned eight radio stations and seven television ones in Nebraska (update.legislature.ne.gov, 1/26/05). In 2015, Flood founded the News Channel Nebraska network which all NE radio stations participate in and is NE’s only 24-hour news channel (network.com/blo, NewTek). Flood served two stints as member of the NE Legislature from 2005-2013 and in 2021-2022. He was Speaker of the NE Leigislature from 2007-2013 (www,1011now.com, netnebraska.org, 10/06/20). On 1/16/2022, Flood announced his candidacy for the NE 1st CD. When incumbent GOPer and scandal-tarred Fortenberry resigned, the NE GOP picked Flood as its nominee for the 6/28/22 special election (1011now.com, 4/0922).
Flood’s Democrat opponent, Lincoln native Patty Pansing Brooks (63), graduated from Colorado College in 1980 and obtained a law degree in 1984 from the University of Nebraska College of Law (pattypansingbrooks.com). She served on a number of Lincoln community boards and co-chaired several fundraising efforts, including the renovation of Centennial Mall and Lincoln Plaza. She successfully co-chaired a committee to promote voter approval of a bond for the Lincoln Public Schools (journalstar.com, 6/11/13, journalstar.com, 1/18/16). She handily won election to the NE Legislature in 2014 and was re-elected in 2018 to represent the Lincoln area. Pansing Brooks announced her intention to run against 1st CD incumbent Fortenberry in 11/2021. When Fortenberry resigned, she ended up facing GOPer Mike Flood in the 6/2022 special election.
Besides trashing President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the usual GOP “villains,” Flood, almost immediately after the Dobbs anti-Roe decision, bragged in a campaign ad about his sponsorship of a 2010 NE state law. That law banned abortions 20 weeks after fertilization. Democrat Pansing Brooks highlighted her support for abortion rights. She called the Dobbs decision an “assault on privacy and a step backward in American culture.” She stated that this special election was the first instance where “we can fight back at the ballot box ( nebraskapublicmedia.org, Padmore & Bauer, 6/28/22, Schulte & Price, 6/29/22, apnews.com, 6/29/22).” Although Flood ultimately won this race, early results had shown him trailing behind Pansing Brooks (norfolkdailynews.com).
Democrat Pansing Brook’s vote share was boosted by a higher-than-expected turnout in Lancaster County, where Lincoln lies and where she serves as state senator. Lancaster County had the second-highest turnout of all counties (electionresults.nebraska.gov, 6/29/22). Pansing Brooks also came within a five-point margin of winning suburban Omaha county Sarpy. Pansing Brooks outperformed Biden in the NE 1st, despite Flood outspending her (Donni, decisiondeskhq.com, 6/30/22).
Democrats and pundits of all stripes were shocked when Pansing Brooks outperformed all previous “Team Blue” candidates in the NE 1st CD going back to 1974. In this “dark Red” CD, Democrat Pansing Brooks lost to GOPer Flood by just 6.34% points, 53.17%- 46.83% (nebraskapublicmedia.org, Padmore et al, 6/28/22). In 2004, the last time an open seat contest took place in the NE 1st CD , GOPer Fortenberry clobbered his Democratic rival by 11 points, 54%-43%. In Fortenberry’s 2020 re-election campaign, he won by a “h uu ge” 21 point margin (dailykos.com, NebraskaDemocrat, 7/05/22).
Many national Democrats see GOPer Flood’s win in a usually safe “Team Red” congressional district as an indication that the Supreme Court’s overruling Roe in its Dobbs decision is a “game changer.” IMHO, Democrats and moderates are sending a message to the GOP. “Team Blue” and moderate voters are angry and ready to vote anti-choice “Team Red” candidates out. Again, this was the first election since the GOP-dominated SCOTUS overruled Roe. Democrat Pansing Brooks running this close a race in a special election means there is no national 2022 midterm “Red” wave that far too many pundits keep yammering about. National Democratic political strategist Adrienne Elrod stated the NE CD 1st election result was “a sign of energy among Democrats following the Supreme Court ruling last week.”
This 6/2022 special election was held to fill out the remainder of Fortenberry’s term. Democrat Pansing Brooks will again face Flood in an attempt to win a full term in the 11/2022 midterm election. In this ultra-“Red” district in a “dripping Red” state, Pansing Brooks faces a very steep uphill climb. More GOP voters will come out in the 2022 midterm race to hammer Biden and anyone with a “D” after his/her name. Flood has stated that in the 11/2022 midterm campaign, he will do his best to increase his support in Lincoln and suburban Omaha, which will cut into Pansing Brooks’ margin (Schulte et al, 6/29/22, apnews.com). However, Democrats can now use overturning Roe to force the GOP to play defense in areas that never should have been a problem for them. If the backlash against overturning Roe has hit “Red” NE, it is a national issue we can use to fire up our base. Democrats and moderates, in 11/2022, get out and vote in droves plus to throw out anti-Roe legislators. The right to privacy for millions of women is at stake.