Omaha, NE - Could the blue dot return in 2012? President Obama's chances to split Nebraska and peel off another electoral vote from Omaha in next week’s election appear slim.
As NBC News’ Brian Williams announced on Election Night moments before President Barack Obama took the stage before thousands of people in Chicago, 2008 was an historic year. “An African American has broken the barrier as old as the Republic,” Williams said. “A seismic shift in American politics.”
And Nebraska participated in that history by making a bit of its own. Despite the state’s tradition as a Republican stronghold, then-Senator Barack Obama made a play for the state’s Second Congressional district vote. “They put all sorts of resources into the race in 2008, spent a lot of money, had a lot of staff here, and in a historic vote, peeled off that electoral vote,” said Paul Landow, a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska Omaha.
And so the Omaha-based district sent its one electoral vote to the president and became a “blue dot” in a deep red state. But today? Well, it’s four years later and things are a little different. “I think, to be blunt, President Obama isn’t as popular in 2012 as he was in 2008,” Landow said. “And that makes sense. Most incumbents aren’t.
“He was the new guy in ’08,” he said. “Now everyone’s had four years to look at him, judge him, see what he’s accomplished and not accomplished, and they’re looking at him differently.”
In 2008, although excitement was high, splitting Omaha from the rest of the state was still a tough task. President Obama’s support depended on turning out young supporters and voters in the Democratic strongholds of North and South Omaha who don’t usually come to the polls.
Gov. Mitt Romney campaigning in Omaha at Rick's Cafe and Boatyard in Omaha. (Photo by KVNO News)
“I voted for Barack Obama. Who else?” laughed Lamar Neal, an African American barber at a shop on 24th Street in North Omaha. Neal said Obama was the right person in 2008 to “touch a lot of people” and inspire them to come out and vote. In 2012, he said, Obama’s support among his district, which is predominantly African American, is still strong.
“I see him doing more for us than the people that he been going against,” Neal said. “People that he is going against don’t really care about what’s going on around here.
“They offer one thing just to look good and be impressive, and they ain’t trying to do nothing to help nobody,” Neal added. “They ain’t looking at the low class or the middle class. They all about the rich and wealthy.”
Neal said he thinks North Omaha will come out and vote for President Obama again, but he can’t say if the numbers will be as high. “I hope,” Neal said. “I hope even more maybe because if they don’t, we will suffer… It’s self-explanatory for me. I’ll be voting for Barack Obama.”
While Obama’s support might be steadfast in North Omaha, it’s less so among young people in the city. On the campus of the University of Nebraska Omaha, several young and first-time voters said they will be voting for Gov. Mitt Romney, and that’s partly due to the Republican tradition in the state.
Emily Reznicek is a junior at UNO. She said she was too young to vote in 2008, but she would have voted red if she could have, and that’s how she’ll be voting next week. “I’ve always known I was a Republican,” she said. “But I feel like I support Republican views more now since I’ve grown and matured.
“I mean Obama was a great talker and we needed change then,” she added. “But … he’s talking now like he is just starting his four years. He’s really not reflecting back on the fact that he had four years to prove himself, and he didn’t really do much of anything. Why would things change in these four years if they haven’t in the past four years?”
Even with independents who might not follow tradition, Obama still has an uphill climb.
Donald Bochnicek is also a junior at UNO. He said he weighs his decision based on character, not party. He was also too young to vote in 2008, but he said he would have supported Obama if he could have – then. “Mainly just because I liked him at the time,” Bochnicek said. “I mean, I still kinda like him. But I just don’t like the fighting that goes on between the two of them.
“They seem really arrogant a lot of the time and that bothers me,” he said. “The commercials, they’re just trying to destroy, they’re trying to bring each other down instead of trying to say what each other wants to do. There’s always a hidden message of attack, and I just can’t stand that.”
Another difference this time around is the organizing efforts on the ground. In 2008, the Obama campaign opened several offices in Omaha and the candidate drew thousands to a rally at the Civic Center downtown. This year, there’s just one Obama office in Omaha.
But candidates from both tickets have made numerous stops just across the river in Council Bluffs. Gov. Romney, Paul Ryan, Vice President Joe Biden and President Obama have all visited the Bluffs – which shares a media market with Omaha. And just this week, President Bill Clinton made another stop campaigning for the president.
Julie Garman crossed the river to hear him. Garman said she supported Obama in 2008 and she’ll do so again this year. But being a blue supporter in a red state, she said, is not always easy. “Sometimes I find that, at least where I live in my neighborhood, a lot of people are very conservative,” Garman said. “So sometimes you just have to bite your tongue.
“But …so much of it is about women’s health and rights for gay marriage and those kind of things that are just so fundamentally important to me,” she added, “that I can’t understand how people can’t see that there’s like a huge difference between the two sides.”
“The bottom line is always the same in presidential politics,” said political analyst Paul Landow.
“Democrats vote for Democrats and Republicans vote for Republicans. And that leaves a narrow slice in the middle.”
Landow said if he were to place Omaha on the electoral map this year, he’d put the district down as “lean red.”
“I would say that it’s not impossible for President Obama to win the district still,” he said. “But I would have to say that I believe it’s unlikely. Far more likely Governor Romney will win it.”
We'll find out on Election Day. Just four more days.