Abortion decision jolts sleepy special election with Pansing Brooks and Flood

By: - June 27, 2022 4:00 am
Pansing Brooks-Flood

State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, left, is running against U.S. Rep. Mike Flood, R-Neb.this fall. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — Friday’s Supreme Court ruling on abortion could juice voter turnout in the final days of an otherwise sleepy special election coming Tuesday to pick the next member of the U.S. House for Lincoln and much of eastern Nebraska outside of the Omaha area.

State Sens. Patty Pansing Brooks, a Democrat, and Mike Flood, a Republican, are running in a rare special election to decide who will finish out the final six months of Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s term. He resigned in March after being convicted of three felonies. 

Political observers are divided over whether Democrats or Republicans might be helped the most in the short term by the Court’s decision to reverse Roe v. Wade. But they agreed the result could lead to higher turnout on Election Day and more engagement in races this fall.

Paul Landow, a University of Nebraska at Omaha political scientist, said he thinks the energy on the abortion issue will shift from boosting Republicans to helping Democrats now that the court has made the Republican position the status quo.

“It turns it on its head,” he said. 

Might motivate women

Richard Witmer, a political scientist at Creighton University, agreed but said it’s also possible that a small number of Republicans could be motivated to make sure Congress doesn’t step in and undo the ability of states to act on their own.

“I think what we will see is Democrats and women being more motivated and organized,” Witmer said. “A majority of people are not against Roe v. Wade.”

Pansing Brooks has stressed that the Supreme Court’s action striking down Roe v. Wade puts much more than abortion in danger, pointing to Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurrent opinion that Friday’s decision also could endanger Court precedents behind same-sex marriage, interracial marriage and birth control.

“These are scary times, but this Tuesday provides the first day in the entire country where we can fight back at the ballot box,” she said. “It is time to channel our anger and our frustration at the Supreme Court and others that seek to infringe on women’s bodily autonomy, and channel our anger into votes.”

Flood has emphasized his abortion bona fides, stressing his work to pass restrictions limiting when women can get abortions to 20 weeks and his support for a total ban now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned. He said he was glad the Court is letting states decide.

“President Biden is telling people today that they need to elect pro-choice Democrats to Congress to preserve abortion on demand, late term abortions, dismemberment abortions,” Flood said Friday. “We can’t allow the Congress to permit abortion on demand, much less dismemberment abortions.”

Issue on campaign trail

The candidates were asked a lot about abortion in the final days of their special election campaigns. They’ve been crisscrossing Nebraska’s reshaped 1st Congressional District. 

Pansing Brooks campaigned in Lincoln, La Vista, North Bend and Firth. Flood visited Lincoln, Bellevue, Columbus and North Bend.

Flood, who lives in Norfolk, has spent the past several weeks sharing his vision of what the House GOP can do to fight inflation, starting with limiting federal spending and expanding domestic oil production.

He said that one-party rule in Washington isn’t working and that the only way to change what’s been happening is to change which party is in charge.

Pansing Brooks, who lives in Lincoln, has talked a lot about inflation as well, highlighting her willingness to work on solutions in Congress with people of goodwill in either political party.

She supported abortion rights when she was chairwoman of the Lancaster County GOP before the national party focused on social issues. She left because she could no longer accept its stances.

Both campaigns are calling, texting and knocking on voters’ doors. 

Special election in 1st District

Polls are open Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Because congressional districts were just redrawn, Tuesday will be one of the first elections in the district for a number of voters, including most residents in the Sarpy County suburbs of Papillion and La Vista. The Legislature let the state use the new district boundaries a few months earlier than initially planned, starting with the May 10 primary election. All the new boundaries will be in place for the November election. 

Those shifting Sarpy voters are used to voting in the 2nd Congressional District, the seat now held by U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb. The Flood and Pansing Brooks campaigns have spent a lot of time reaching out to constituents in the new areas.

In another change, Saunders County was moved out of the 1st District into the 2nd District. The 1st District now includes voters in all of Butler, Cass, Colfax, Cuming, Dodge, Lancaster, Madison, Platte, Seward and Stanton Counties, along with voters in parts of Polk and Sarpy Counties.

Wrap-up expected in July

Nebraskans in the 1st District have been without a congressional representative since March. 

Officials expect certification of the special election vote to take two to three weeks, instead of the typical five, because the election is limited to one race in just 12 counties. Provisional ballots have to be counted by July 8. That means Nebraska could send a certified result to Washington, D.C., in July.

Election Day will reveal how many people paid attention to this rare Nebraska federal election in June.

Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen has not released a turnout prediction for the special election. Political observers had expected only the most committed voters in both parties to cast ballots. But the Supreme Court decision might raise people’s awareness of the election, Witmer said.

About 39,000 Nebraskans had returned early ballots by Monday morning, state election officials said. Another 12,000 early ballots sent to voters had not been returned.  For context, more than 33,000 residents of Lancaster County alone voted early during May’s primary election.

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Aaron Sanderford
Aaron Sanderford

Political reporter Aaron Sanderford has tackled various news roles in his 20-plus year career. He has reported on politics, crime, courts, government and business for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. He also spent several years as an assignment editor and worked two stints as an editorial writer. From 2005 to 2007, he served as communications director for then-Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman. Aaron most recently was the lead investigative reporter for KMTV 3 in Omaha, focusing on holding public officials accountable. His work has received awards from the Associated Press, Great Plains Journalism and more.

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