(In the final days of an election, there is so much information from so many races, it's difficult to stay on top of every story and understand the subtle dynamics often at play on the ground. Thankfully, we have an expansive 50-state blogosphere to match our 50-state strategy. Over the last two weeks of the campaign, we've asked leaders of the state blogospheres to provide insight into late developments and share the stories of their states in a series we're calling "Listening to the Locals." SusanG)
You've seen the electoral college map. You've seen those scenarios where an otherwise tied presidential election goes to Barack Obama thanks to a single vote from Nebraska's Second Congressional District. Our state's peculiar system for awarding three of its five electoral college votes by Congressional District was signed into law by then-Gov. Ben Nelson in 1991. In his second term, Nelson twice had to defend that system with his veto pen.
Suddenly, Nebraska finds itself relevant in presidential politics for the first time in decades. Suddenly, Nebraska matters, and our state's Republican leaders – including Gov. Dave Heineman – are already working behind the scenes to make sure it never happens again.
For now, though, the dream lives on that Omaha might become "Obamaha" on November 4th. That's where the national media's attention will be in this election, but that's not where the excitement ends in the Cornhusker state. Let me tell you a little bit about Scott Kleeb for U.S. Senate, Jim Esch for Congress, and the swing of 30,000 voter registrations over just the last nine months that suggests change is coming to Nebraska politics.
Scott Kleeb for U.S. Senate
For good reason, Scott Kleeb is a long-time favorite of the progressive blog community. He won over many with his long-shot 2006 bid for the U.S. House in one of the largest, most rural, and most Republican districts in the country. Kleeb came up just short in that contest but was greeted with a wave of enthusiasm earlier this year when he announced his campaign for the U.S. Senate.
Kleeb’s uncanny ability to communicate progressive values in a way that connects with conservative voters helped him to an overwhelming victory in the Democratic primary, but he has since faced two great challenges. First, his Republican opponent, Mike Johanns, is a former Governor with unrivaled name recognition able to use his ties as a former Ag Secretary in the Bush Administration to raise unlimited contributions from corporate special interests desperate for a Republican candidate who actually looks like a winner. The even tougher challenge for Kleeb, though, has been the long-standing complacency of the Nebraska press that has too long failed to hold Johanns accountable.
Many in the local media have gone out of their way turning a blind eye to a recent Congressional report that showed Johanns campaigned for endangered Republican candidates all across the country on taxpayers' dime - under orders from Karl Rove and the Bush White House. Less than two weeks ago, Johanns admitted that his own conduct should have been illegal. Still, this late-breaking story hasn't even received a mention in our state's largest (and most notoriously conservative) newspaper.
It's shocking. It's disgusting. And, it reinforces the fact that Kleeb can only count on people like us to help him get his message out to voters and finally hold Johanns accountable. You've been there for Scott in the past. Please stand with him now, so Kleeb can continue standing up for the best in the people of Nebraska in the closing days of this campaign.
Jim Esch for Congress (NE-02)
2nd Congressional District challenger Jim Esch faces much different circumstances in his rematch against do-nothing, five-term incumbent Lee Terry. Buoyed by his own strong showing in 2006, Esch stands to gain the most from the excitement and manpower generated by the Obama campaign’s investment in the Omaha metro area. But, it's Esch's smart and aggressive campaign that has made believers of the DCCC as this race has gone from a "solid" Republican hold just four months ago to the newest "toss-up" according to this week's Cook and Rothenberg Political Reports.
This race has only just emerged on the national radar, but that's definitely where it belongs. Having already underestimated Esch once in 2006, Terry's been begging for help from the national Republican Party ever since Esch decided to run again. Scared of voters’ hunger for change, Terry's even made a pathetic and disingenuous appeal to Obama supporters hoping they'd fail to see he represents everything wrong with Washington over the last ten years.
Recognizing the writing on the wall, the desperate NRCC has only now come to Terry’s aid with half-a-million dollars in cheap personal attacks against Esch for a DUI charge when he was 25 years-old.
Terry's already had to denounce this pathetic attack by the NRCC, but the only real way to fight back is to make sure Esch has the resources to win this race on the real issues driving his campaign.
The defeat of Lee Terry would be a watershed moment for Nebraskans. He’s already been named to the GOP "death list." Now, it’s up to second district voters to deliver that killing blow, rejecting once-and-for-all the unprincipled partisanship that fueled Terry’s support of every major Bush Administration policy, helping bring our nation to the brink of ruin.
30,000 New Nebraska Democrats
Readers shouldn’t be surprised by the strength of these candidates. Despite our red state reputation, Democrats do win in Nebraska. Only one of the last five U.S. Senators we've elected has been a Republican, and that was Chuck Hagel, whom many Republicans won't even claim as he retires from the U.S. Senate. On top of this tradition, the Democratic Party has seen a surge in registrations this year that is probably as impressive (and surprising) as any across the country.
Since January 15, 2008, Nebraska has witnessed an unprecedented 30,674 increase in registered Democratic voters. Over that nine months, there has also been an increase of almost 7,500 independent voters with fewer than 800 new Republicans. This has allowed Democrats to retake the registration advantage in Omaha and the surrounding Douglas County for the first time since 1994. But, what's most startling is that Republicans' measly gains have come in this same urban center as the GOP has actually lost registrations across the rest of the state.
Right now, it's unclear just how deep this change actually runs, but it's possible that we're only seeing the start of something very special that could reshape the face of Nebraska politics. All bets are off in this election, and that speaks in favor of Obama, Kleeb, Esch, and a host of great candidates pursuing seats in the Nebraska legislature.
The Local Landscape
Regretfully, it seems unlikely that we'll defeat a constitutional ban on affirmative action organized by Ward Connerly and his fellow right-wing propagandists masquerading under the banner of the civil rights movement. Still, the fight continues and there's much cause for hope that a stronger progressive voice is emerging in our state legislature.
Like our divided electoral college vote, we do things a little bit differently on this front as well. Nebraska is the only state in the nation with a single-house "Unicameral." We also stand apart in that Unicameral's 49 representatives being elected on a nonpartisan ballot without any official partisan organization in the working of that body.
Republican Gov. Dave Heineman has worked to undermine this system because it's served as a check on his authority at a time when Republicans are just shy of a de facto 2/3rds majority. Thankfully, Heineman's strong arm tactics in support of his corporate, right-wing agenda have forced the organization of a makeshift progressive coalition that should only need a few more allies to possess the numbers and influence to put a stop to his most extreme assaults on working- and middle-class Nebraska families.
This is the second election since term limits took effect two years ago, meaning the last class of legislative titans will be bidding farewell to the state capitol. Currently, the unofficial but not entirely meaningless tally places 31 Republicans, 15 Democrats, and 3 independents in the legislature. Chief among those term limited is 38-year veteran Ernie Chambers, a firebrand who's dominated the legislature with his mastery of procedure and shameless flaunting of the rules in his self-appointed role as "defender of the downtrodden" – especially North Omaha's predominately black community.
Chambers' removal from office was one of the driving forces behind the push for term limits by some of our state's most conservative elements. In his absence, many legislators who could previously get by letting Chambers do the heavy lifting are going to have to step up and prove their mettle.
Rising to that challenge in this election are young candidates Heath Mello and Jeremy Nordquist, whose experience, vision, and civic-mindedness are well-matched in federal candidates like Kleeb and Esch. There's also Chambers' likely successor, Brenda Council, who came close to being elected Omaha's mayor 11 years ago and will now finally get the chance to prove herself at this next level. Lincoln City Councilman Dan Marvin is similarly prepared to lead following in the footsteps of DiAnna Schimek, another legendary legislator in her own right.
Of course, there are always those few races by which our success in this election must ultimately be judged. This year, the sole incumbent of the bunch is Gail Kopplin. Kopplin and another candidate, Rex Moats, have both been tireless advocates for their communities at moments of crisis when each has had to make painful adjustments to Omaha's enormous growth. Chuck Shoemaker is a registered independent who lead Hastings, Nebraska to national recognition for its environmental initiatives. In a similar mold, Bob Giese and Kate Sullivan have each proven themselves well-respected leaders in rural Nebraska, where a progressive vision may be the hardest sell but where it's also the most desperately needed.
Richard Register is the underdog running against an ambitious city councilman who's supported draconian and likely unconstitutional measures against illegal immigrants. Then, there's Susan Scott, facing an Heineman appointee who's dedicated his every vote in the legislature to racking up corporate donations for this campaign. Oh yeah...this right-wing extremist also opposes basic sex education being taught in public schools' curriculum.
Tanya Cook is being attacked by the Nebraska Republican Party twisting her support for higher teachers' pay into support for higher property taxes – an attack the source has labeled an "unethical and underhanded" lie. Finally, there's Ken Haar, who's been targeted for defeat nationally by anti-abortion activists for no other reason than his wife's leadership in the local Planned Parenthood affiliate.
That's nine candidates. I hope the entire DailyKos community will join me in hopes that no fewer than six of these nine will win on November 4th as we continue our fight for a New Nebraska.
This is a realistic goal that would establish a reliable coalition of 20 progressive votes in the legislature. It's been a long time since there was any true alternative to the Republican status quo that's dominated our statewide politics for the last decade. After this election, we will hopefully find that situation much-improved when the new legislature convenes in January with these candidates stepping up and leading the way.
Thank you for your time and for your support. Go Huskers!