Cook Political Report now rates Bacon-Vargas race a toss-up

Report cites Kansas vote to reject a ban on abortion as a factor

By: - August 5, 2022 11:29 am

Election Day (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — A much-followed national political analyst is now rating Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District matchup between U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., and Democrat State Sen. Tony Vargas a toss-up.

A column Friday by David Wasserman in the nonpartisan Cook Political Report said it’s clear that this week’s “emphatic” rejection in Kansas of an anti-abortion ballot issue has “swiftly galvanized Democrats.”

State Sen. Tony Vargas (Courtesy of the Unicameral Information Office)

Wasserman, who moved the race from “likely Republican” to a “toss-up,” wrote that Bacon’s narrow victories in 2018 and 2020 in the Omaha-based district “are starting to look more like a function of far-left, pro-single payer Democrat Kara Eastman’s limited appeal than his own strength.”

“Multiple private surveys taken by both parties,” according to Wasserman, are now showing Bacon, a retired brigadier general, tied with or trailing a more moderate Democrat, Vargas.

Vargas, a former Omaha School Board member who once taught in Brooklyn, is now emphasizing Bacon’s responses to a 2016 questionnaire from Nebraska Right to Life in which the congressman said he opposed abortion exceptions for rape, incest and a mother’s life.

In a press release Friday, Vargas called the shift to a “toss-up” a “major national development.”

“But it only confirms what Nebraska voters already know — that Don Bacon has changed and he’s no longer the right person to represent this district,” Vargas said.

U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb. (Courtesy House of Representatives)

A spokeswoman for the Bacon campaign said that Vargas is just as “extreme” as Eastman.

“Sen. Vargas’s anti-police, weak on crime record coupled with his past efforts to raise (state income) taxes in Nebraska to the fifth highest in the nation shows he will be a rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi,” said spokeswoman Danielle Jensen, citing Platte Institute testimony on a 2019 proposal by Vargas.

Wasserman wrote that Republicans aren’t panicking and maintain that Bacon has always started his races in this position.

“But the issue threatens to put him in a serious bind in this suburban (district),” Wasserman wrote, one that President Joe Biden won in 2020 with about 56% of the vote.

The columnist said the vote in Kansas confirms that Democrats will use the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn abortion rights to “squeeze pro-life Republicans in Biden-won seats.” But, Wasserman added, it remains to be seen if worries about inflation will override concerns among independent voters.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.