Did you know there was a special election yesterday to fill Jeff Fortenberry’s congressional seat in eastern Nebraska? He was forced to resign after being convicted in a campaign fraud court case. (Coincidentally he was sentenced to two years probation as people were voting for his successor Tuesday). The district (NE-01) is not considered competitive. The PVI is R+11. Democrats don’t win R+11 districts, not even in blue wave years. And in a red wave year like this… no one even bothered to watch too closely. But the results last night came as a bit of a shock.
In 1938 Republican George Heinke was elected to Congress and though he died in office, 5 Republicans were elected after him until the Goldwater debacle, when Democrat Clair Callan won a single term. He was defeated in 1966 and it’s been all red since then.
NE-01 has been a Republican bastion on the presidential level as well. George W Bush beat Al Gore (59-36%), and John Kerry (63-36%); McCain beat Obama (54-44%) and then Romney beat him as well (57-41%). And then Trump won the district both times— 58-36% against Hillary and 56-41% against Biden. So wasn’t it a surprise last night when Democrat Patty Brooks gave Republican Mike Flood a bumpy little road in the first election in the country conducted in the new district boundaries! The partisan-lean of the old district was R+21 and the lean of the new one is R+17. Flood, a hard core, anti-Choice conservative won, but not by the margin anyone expected. The final result in the relatively high turnout election:
State Sen. Mike Flood (R)- 60,068 (53.2%)
State Sen. Patty Brooks (D)- 52,913 (46.8%)
Flood spent $1,164,262 to Brooks' $419,552. There were no independent expenditures by Democrats, just $109,554 in favor of Flood. The night started like this:
Turnout in blue-leaning Lincoln (Lancaster County) was heavy and Flood didn’t sweep to the kind of victory everyone was expecting. In 2020 Fortenberry lost Lancaster County by less than one percent of the vote. Yesterday, Flood lost it by 13 points. In the end, though, pro-choice Lancaster County was the only county Brooks won— and 13 points wasn’t enough to make up for the deficit in backward rural parts of the district. The election gives Flood the seat for 6 months but he will have to face Brooks again in November for a full term. There are dozens of districts around the country that are closer in partisan makeup than NE-01. Many of these swing districts, some held by Republicans and some by Democrats, will be the November battlegrounds. And if Brooks could do as well as she did, Democrats can take heart that they can do better in districts less aligned to the GOP.