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 state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.

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