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Nebraska OKs new congressional maps, keeps Omaha competitive

September 30, 2021 GMT

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Democratic presidential hopefuls could still have a real shot at claiming one of Nebraska’s electoral votes, despite Republican dominance statewide, based on new political maps approved Thursday.

Nebraska passed congressional boundaries that would keep the Omaha-centered 2nd Congressional District competitive, even though Republicans pushed to draw the districts in a way that would have given the party a greater advantage. GOP lawmakers withdrew their plan after realizing they didn’t have enough support to overcome a Democratic-led filibuster.

“It was clear we were never going to get there,” said Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, the Republican chairwoman of the Legislature’s Redistricting Committee.

Nebraska and Maine are the only states that can split their Electoral College votes based on the popular vote in each congressional district. Nebraska has done so twice, with the 2nd District’s vote going to Democrats Barack Obama in 2008 and Joe Biden in 2020. Omaha is one of the few places in Nebraska where Democrats are competitive.

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Under the new map approved by lawmakers and Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, Biden still would have won in the 2nd District last year, but with a narrower margin. All of Omaha will remain within the district, but so will several Republican-leaning suburbs, and lawmakers added a rural neighboring county with even more GOP voters.

The original GOP-backed map would have sliced off the western edge of Omaha and put it in the 1st Congressional District, which leans solidly Republican because most of it is rural farmland. Those voters would have been replaced by suburban and rural areas south of Omaha that are more starkly Republican.

Republicans outnumber Democrats, 32-17, in the ostensibly nonpartisan Legislature, which is one vote shy of what they would need to overcome a filibuster.

Some Democrats still weren’t happy with the map, which could still make it a little harder for the party’s candidates to win. Sen. Adam Morfeld, of Lincoln, said Democrats didn’t have many options beyond compromising because they were outnumbered in the Legislature. Delaying the process probably wouldn’t have changed any minds, he said, but would have forced the state to postpone its May 2022 primary, creating problems for state officials and candidates.

“It was a tough process, given the timeline,” Morfeld said. “I think many of us did the best we could to ensure transparency and fairness.”

Morfeld, who served on the Redistricting Committee, said he heard a lot of feedback from Omaha residents about the importance of the 2nd Congressional District, “and that was obviously top of mind.” He said the experience reinforced his belief that Nebraska should use an independent, nonpartisan commission to redraw political districts.

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Sen. Jen Day, of Omaha, said the process was “incredibly difficult” and that many people outside the Legislature were disappointed with the outcome.

Linehan, the Republican chairwoman, said she doesn’t believe the leanings of the 2nd District will change much. She noted that Republicans have generally fared better than Democrats there and in the rest of the state. The district is currently represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, who unseated one-term Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford in 2016 — the only Democrat to hold the seat in 26 years.

“It depends on who’s running,” Linehan said. “That plays a much larger role in the race than how the lines are drawn.”

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