Nebraska Democratic party, voters gearing up for weekend's caucuses

Across Nebraska, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders' campaigns have been increasing their efforts in anticipation of this weekend's Democratic caucuses.
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March 3, 2016 - 6:44am

With Super Tuesday in the books, the country will now look to the remaining states to ultimately determine both the Republican and Democratic nominees for president of the United States. The Nebraska Republican primary will be held this summer on May 10, but this weekend Nebraska Democrats will have the opportunity to caucus for who they think should be their nominee: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

Inside the small office of the Lancaster County Democrats, party chair John Yoakum is trying to bring order to a group of about 20 eager volunteers, who may be just as anxious as the candidates themselves.

“Caucuses are chaotic. We want to be organized chaos as much as possible,” Yoakum tells the group.

Tonight is one of several training sessions throughout the state to prepare for Saturday’s democratic caucus, one that some party members predict could bring a big turnout. That's caused some problems in the past.

“It won’t be perfect, but it will be great," said Vince Powers, chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party.

There are no ballots. Participants instead gather in groups by presidential preference and are tallied by party officials. It was first utilized in Nebraska in 2008 as a way to give the state more of a say in the nomination, by moving up the process by several months. Nearly 40,000 democrats turned out in 2008, overcrowding some sites. Powers says that’s something the party is better prepared for this time around.

“Nebraska democrats have an opportunity to help select the next president of the United States. We’re going to play a part, a small part, but we’re playing a part," Powers said. "We’ve had both presidential campaigns for the first time in a long time competing for the votes of each democrat.”

30 delegates are up for grabs in Nebraska. Five are super-delegates not bound by caucus votes. The other 25 will be earned by Clinton and Sanders based upon their percentage of the vote.

Chelsea Clinton has made several appearances in Lincoln and Omaha over the past month, attempting to rally support for her mother by highlighting her record and experience - a theme throughout Hilary Clinton’s campaign.

"I think this is probably an area that Nebraskans really resonate with. We need someone who knows when to fight, but also when finding common ground is more progressive," Clinton said. "I think my mom has a unique record in really being able to do that. I hope that people will realize that so much is at stake from an issue perspective, but also from a leadership perspective.”

Both campaigns have also established several offices across the state. Bill Romjue is the director for Sander’s Nebraska effort. It’s at the opening of the campaign's office in Omaha - comprised mainly of college students- that he highlights the rapid growth of Sander’s grassroots support among the state’s youth. What he considers one of Sanders’ biggest strengths.

“She has the support of a lot of the established party leadership, but we have tremendous support at the grass roots level," Romjue said. "I think we’re really going to be able to compete. We’re all going to work hard and they are too so we’ll just have to see.”

Paul Landow is a political science professor with the University of Nebraska Omaha. He says while he credits the caucus with raising awareness about Nebraska’s involvement in the race, he does have reservations about it being the right fit over a traditional primary.

“To me, the question really is, ‘Does it afford the widest possible participation by interested voters?’ I would say the answer to that is ‘no,’" Landow said. "It takes a much more motivated person to go to a caucus than it does to vote one time in an election. But it’s a system and it works in some states. It’s obviously been working in Iowa for some time and they’re sold on it. So we’ll see what happens.”

Typically, caucuses have proven to be beneficial to politicians with a strong grassroots following like Sanders. President Obama’s Nebraska win in 2008 is one example. But as Landow points out, it hasn’t been the case this time around in other states like Nevada, where Clinton came out on top. Clinton also has the endorsement of several prominent local democratic politicians. If you ask Landow or Powers which candidate has the edge this weekend, they’ll tell you it’s anyone’s guess.

“And you know, that’s the way it should be.  In a democracy, there’s nothing more important than selecting the next president and that’s what we’re doing,” Landow said.



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