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Democrat Joe Biden garners rare Nebraska electoral vote

November 4, 2020 GMT
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Ahmed Morsi brings along his month-old son Omar, while filling his ballot at a polling place in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Ahmed Morsi brings along his month-old son Omar, while filling his ballot at a polling place in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Democrat Joe Biden won Tuesday in Nebraska’s Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District, a victory that allows him to peel off one of the conservative state’s five Electoral College votes.

Nebraska is one of two states — Maine is the other — that permits its electoral votes to be split. The statewide winner earns two votes, but the other three votes are decided by the winner of the congressional districts. Because President Donald Trump won the statewide vote and in Nebraska’s two other districts, he will receive four Electoral College votes. By beating Trump in the Omaha district, Biden will earn one vote.

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To win the presidency, a candidate must win at least 270 of the nation’s 538 Electoral College votes. Since adopting the split-vote system in 1991, Nebraska had split its electoral votes only one other time: In 2008, when Democrat Barack Obama won the 2nd District on his way to the presidency.

Trump supporters who spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday tended to cite his performance in his first term for their decision. But others, like Omaha bartender Jennifer Cheek, said the handling of the coronavirus pandemic swayed their vote.

“I believe that Joe Biden has a better plan for how to deal with the coronavirus. I also believe that Joe Biden has a better plan for how to safely and effectively reopen the economy,” Cheek said.

CASINO GAMBLING

After decades of rejecting casino gambling, Nebraska voters overwhelmingly approved measures Tuesday to allow it at state-licensed horse racing tracks in Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, Columbus and South Sioux City.

Opponents fought hard to keep the issue off the ballot, including filing a lawsuit in September that was rejected by the Nebraska Supreme Court. Now voters have approved a change to the state constitution to allow slot machines and table gambling, as well as two laws that will regulate and tax casino gambling.

Opponents had argued the change would lead to social ills, such as crime and bankruptcy fueled by gambling addiction. Supporters countered that those problems already exist in Nebraska because of easy access to neighboring states’ casinos, and that legalizing casinos in Nebraska would create jobs and a new source of tax revenue.

CONGRESS

Republican Rep. Don Bacon won a second term Tuesday, defeating Democratic challenger Kara Eastman in a rematch of their 2018 race that many thought would swing to Eastman this time around.

Bacon narrowly defeated Eastman two years ago, and some polls had shown Eastman as the favorite. Bacon noted in a victory speech to supporters Tuesday that this election cycle has exposed the dysfunction wrought by polarized politics.

“I’m a conservative. I don’t compromise my values,” he said. “But I commit to you .. I will work with the other side to find areas where we agree, whether it’s health care, whether it’s migration or whatever it may be.”

In the 1st District, Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry managed to fend off Democratic challenger Kate Bolz in one of the closest races he’s faced in the 15 years he’s held the seat. Republican Rep. Adrian Smith also won reelection to an eighth term representing the state’s rural, deeply red 3rd District, handily defeating Democratic challenger Mark Elworth Jr.

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse easily won a second term in a race marked by controversy surrounding Democrat Chris Janicek, an Omaha cupcake bakery owner. Janicek won the Democratic primary in May, but then came under fire from his own party for sending sexually explicit texts about a female campaign worker in a group text message.

The Nebraska Democratic Party spent months trying unsuccessfully to force Janicek out of the race, and the party eventually endorsed longtime party activist Preston Love Jr. as a write-in candidate.

PAYDAY LENDING

Nebraska voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a measure to cap the annual interest rate on payday loans at 36%.

The measure changes existing state law, which allows lenders to charge more than 400% annually. Supporters of the measure argued that such high rates victimize low-income borrowers and those who do not understand lending requirements.

Industry officials countered that the high rates are misleading because most loans are short-term and that capping the interest rate will put lenders out of business.

SLAVERY BAN

Nebraska voters easily approved a measure Tuesday to strip language from the state constitution that provides an exemption to its ban on slavery.

Nebraska was one of several states taking on ballot measures in a climate of racial strife this election. Nebraska’s proposal eliminates a passage in the state constitution, dating from the 19th century, that allows slavery as punishment for a crime. There was no organized opposition to the measure, which advanced through the Legislature this year on a unanimous vote.

One other state — Utah — is considering a nearly identical measure.

GOP LEGISLATIVE DIVIDE

State Sen. Julie Slama easily defeated challenger Janet Palmtag on Tuesday in an unusually bitter race that pitted two Republicans against one another in the officially nonpartisan Legislature.

The race exposed a divide in the state GOP. Slama, of Peru, was backed by Gov. Pete Ricketts, who appointed her to the seat last year, while Palmtag was endorsed by former Gov. Dave Heineman.

Slama’s campaign came under criticism for attack ads accusing Palmtag of being soft on crime. The ads pictured Palmtag with state Sen. Ernie Chambers, one of only two Black lawmakers for the state. Critics included former governors Heineman and Democrat Bob Kerrey, who accused Slama of “race-baiting tactics.”

Last month, state regulators found the Nebraska Republican Party and a political consulting firm liable for making illegal robocalls to benefit Slama.

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