U.S. Rep. Mike Flood speaks during a campaign stop in Sarpy County with Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts at his side. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)
OMAHA — Motivated Republicans in northeast Nebraska showed up Tuesday for a hometown guy and powered U.S. Rep. Mike Flood to a second victory over Democratic State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks in the 1st Congressional District.
Flood won a full two-year term by a bigger margin than he posted in the June special election that sent him to Congress to fill out the remaining months in former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s term. Early results showed Flood leading 56%-43%, with between 3,000 and 3,500 early voting ballots from Lancaster County still to be counted Thursday.
A new path
“There was a question in front of Nebraskans,” Flood said. “Do you want to go down the same path as Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden or do you want a new path for America and Nebraska?”
They chose a new path, he said, one that was a “vote of confidence” in his work in Washington, D.C.
The eastern Nebraska race was closer than most recent general elections in the 1st District. Before longtime Rep. Fortenberry was convicted of three felonies last March and resigned, he had won his recent races by 20 percentage points or more.
In addition to having an open seat to fill, the district’s boundaries were changed through redistricting, which added more of Omaha suburbs Papillion and La Vista to the 1st District, shifting them out of the 2nd District. Many Sarpy voters were confused by the changes.
That part of central Sarpy County has voted Republican in national elections, and they showed up in significantly larger numbers for the general election than the special election, based on early returns from the Sarpy County Election Commission.
The district has 68,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats, although redistricting made the district slightly more competitive. Democrats were excited about Pansing Brooks, a former chair of the Lancaster County GOP with deep roots in Lincoln.
Pansing Brooks beat Flood handily in her home county. But by the end of Election Day, she had not matched the 58% of the vote she secured in Lancaster County during the special election. Flood’s campaign focused on cutting into her margins there.
One GOP political consultant said after the special election that Pansing Brooks would have to win more than 60% of the vote in Lancaster County to have a chance to win in the general election.
Pansing Brooks said she found some solace in a George Norris quote about how working hard and failing might end up motivating someone else to take up the fight and succeed.
“We thought we were going to pull it out and were going to do it,” she said after calling Flood to concede. “We were sort of surprised by the numbers. But it’s been an amazing journey and a blessing.”
Once again, Flood ran up high vote margins in his home county of Madison and in Gov.-elect Jim Pillen’s home county of Platte. Supporters of Flood, a former Speaker of the Legislature, said they expected his rural margins to carry him to victory.
Abortion may have played a role in both counties’ results. Pansing Brooks ran as an abortion-rights advocate and spent much of the campaign talking about Flood and Republicans wanting to take away women’s bodily autonomy and birth control.
Flood has spent a large part of his legislative career fighting against abortion. He authored Nebraska’s current restrictions on abortions after 20 weeks and backed a “trigger bill” this year that would have effectively banned abortion in Nebraska.
Pansing Brooks helped the Legislature’s Democrats defeat the trigger bill, which would have gone into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs decision. She has criticized Flood’s votes in Congress on reproductive health as well.
She tried to make her race about running to the center. Pansing Brooks campaigned with centrist Republicans and said she would work across the aisle. Flood, because he had to compete against Fortenberry for part of the primary, moved to the right.
He spoke about the ills of illegal immigration. He also talked about crime and drugs in Nebraska and tried to tie those problems to President Joe Biden’s approach to enforcing the border. He also described Pansing Brooks as more partisan than she portrays.
Flood focused much of his campaign on inflation, along with other House Republicans nationally. He said Pansing Brooks would support more of the federal spending that he says is powering higher prices for food, fuel and other goods.
Pansing Brooks said Flood was toeing the GOP line and exaggerating the impact of federal spending on post-pandemic inflation that is global in nature.
Smith wins in 3rd District
In Nebraska’s sprawling, largely rural and largely Republican 3rd Congressional District, Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., easily won an eighth term.
He defeated a pair of opponents, Democrat David Else of Overton and Legal Marijuana Now Party member Mark Elworth Jr.
Smith, from Gering, secured more than 78% of the vote. He is in line by seniority to compete with two others for the chairmanship of the House’s tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. No Nebraskan has ever served in that post.
“Though our country faces serious challenges, I believe America’s best days are ahead,” Smith said. “I am determined to do my part … to lead our nation to greater opportunity and prosperity for all Americans.”
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