Nebraska House candidates still fight voter confusion after redistricting

Flood, Pansing Brooks, Bacon, Vargas and voters adjust to new maps

By: - November 3, 2022 4:30 am

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, at right, speaks to a breakfast crowd at Hy-Vee in Sarpy County on Wednesday, Nov. 2. He was joined by U.S. Reps. Don Bacon, left, and Mike Flood. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

PAPILLION, Nebraska — Redistricting prompted U.S. Rep. Mike Flood to start his closing pitch to voters Wednesday at a Hy-Vee in Sarpy County. Joining him were Gov. Pete Ricketts and the area’s former congressman, Rep. Don Bacon.

U.S. Rep. Mike Flood, R-Neb., speaks at a campaign event in Sarpy County on Wednesday, Nov. 2. Gov. Pete Ricketts (left) and Rep. Don Bacon joined him. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

For years, suburban voters in central Sarpy County served as a counterweight to Democrats’ edge in Douglas County. Both areas were part of 2nd Congressional District, which is anchored by Omaha. Political pundits called the district’s suburban slice the “red firewall.”

But the Nebraska Legislature’s once-a-decade redistricting shifted Papillion and La Vista into the 1st Congressional District, which is anchored by Lincoln and stretches into northeast Nebraska. The move has created some confusion among voters in the state’s two most competitive congressional races.

It’s the second time in two decades that a slice of Sarpy County voters has had to adjust to being drawn into a new district.

As the Nebraska Examiner reported in August, about 70,000 voters from these Sarpy County suburbs were shifted into the 1st District. And more than 75,000 Nebraskans were transferred out of the 1st District into the sprawling, largely rural 3rd District or into the 2nd District.

‘Grab a yard sign’

These changes left Flood and his Democratic opponent, State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, scrambling to let people know there’s a new race in central Sarpy County — theirs — before June’s special election and the general election, which wraps up Tuesday.

Confused about your district?

Voters can look up their congressional district and more on the Nebraska Secretary of State’s website.

Flood won the special election, which decided who would finish out former U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s term that ends in January. Sarpy turnout for the election was 16%, lower than in a typical primary election. In 2014, the first nonpresidential election year after the last redistricting, Sarpy turnout was 45%.

“I need you to go to your neighbors,” Flood said Wednesday. “I need you to grab a yard sign. I need you to go to people in the 1st District and say, ‘Hey, by the way, we’re in the 1st District.'”

Pansing Brooks and her campaign manager, Chris Triebsch, have said they expect that Sarpy County voters could help her beat Flood, particularly if suburban women are motivated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision this year reversing Roe v. Wade.

State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks speaks to reporters at her campaign headquarters in Lincoln about the Supreme Court decision reversing Roe v. Wade. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

Triebsch said voters want the “bipartisan problem solving” that Pansing Brooks brings and said the momentum in the race is swinging her way.

Flood criticized Pansing Brooks for running as bipartisan.

Sticking with his campaign theme, Flood said more Nebraskans care about how much fuel and food cost than they care about abortion, which he opposes. He and Bacon said they would act as a fiscal check on President Joe Biden’s administration.

Then there is Bacon, who lives within walking distance from this Hy-Vee. He and his Democratic opponent in the 2nd District, State Sen. Tony Vargas, swapped Bacon’s neighbors for voters in rural Saunders County, who were used to being represented by the 1st District representative — until recently, that was Fortenberry.

Sarpy, Saunders swaps

The impact of redistricting on the 2nd District race is harder to read. Bacon lost a base of support, but the district is now  a half-percentage point more Republican. Bacon and Vargas have both been visiting Wahoo to build connections in Saunders County.

“One of the hardest things about the redistricting was losing Papillion,” Bacon said. “It’s my hometown. I get 70% of the vote here. This is like the pillar of where we won big. But we’ve got to give that same 70% or more to (Flood).”

Vargas said his campaign continues “to hear from voters in the metro area and in Saunders County who are confused about which district they are in and which candidates they can vote for.”

Rep. Don Bacon, at left, and State Sen. Tony Vargas respond to questions on Thursday, Oct. 13, during a debate at the Omaha Press Club. Sponsors were the League of Women Voters of Nebraska and WOWT. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure voters know how to vote between now and Election Day and hope to earn broad support from across the district,” Vargas said.

Flood and Pansing Brooks, in the 1st District, expect Sarpy voters to play a key role in the race, with Lancaster County leaning blue and much of northeast Nebraska leaning red.

Political observers expect Flood to win with a nearly 70,000-voter GOP registration advantage. But the special election raised eyebrows and Democratic hopes with Flood’s 6 percentage point win, the closest margin of victory in decades.

Much of that was driven by low turnout in Sarpy, in precincts where people used to be part of another district.

“We’re knocking on doors,” Flood said. “We’re talking to people, and there’s hopefully a red wave coming, but it requires every single person in Sarpy County to get out and vote.”


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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 worked as an assignment editor and editorial writer. He was an investigative reporter at KMTV.