The return of the blue dot?
November 2nd, 2012
Omaha, NE – Could the “blue dot” return in 2012? President Obamaâ€™s chances to split Nebraska and peel off another vote from Omaha in next weekâ€™s election appear slim.
As NBC Newsâ€™ Brian Williams announced on Election Night moments before President Barack Obama took the stage before thousands of people in Chicago, 2008 was a historic year. â€œAn African American has broken the barrier as old as the Republic,â€ Williams said. â€œA seismic shift in American politics.â€
And Nebraska participated in that history by making a bit of its own. Despite the stateâ€™s tradition as a Republican stronghold, then-Senator Barack Obama made a play for the stateâ€™s Second Congressional district vote. â€œThey 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,â€ said Paul Landow, a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska Omaha.
And so the Omaha-based district sent its one vote to the President and became a â€œblue dotâ€ in a deep red state. But today? Well, itâ€™s four years later and things are a little different. â€œI think, to be blunt, President Obama isnâ€™t as popular in 2012 as he was in 2008,â€ Landow said. â€œAnd that makes sense. Most incumbents arenâ€™t.â€
â€œHe was the new guy in â€™08,â€ he said. â€œNow everyoneâ€™s had four years to look at him, judge him, see what heâ€™s accomplished and not accomplished, and theyâ€™re looking at him differently.â€
In 2008, although excitement was high, splitting Omaha from the rest of the state was still a tough task. President Obamaâ€™s support depended on turning out young supporters and voters in the Democratic strongholds of North and South Omaha who donâ€™t usually come to the polls.
â€œI voted for Barack Obama. Who else?â€ 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 â€œtouch a lot of peopleâ€ and inspire them to come out and vote. In 2012, he said, Obamaâ€™s support among his district, which is predominantly African American, is still strong.
â€œI see him doing more for us than the people that he been going against,â€ Neal said. â€œPeople that he going against donâ€™t really care about whatâ€™s going on around here.â€
â€œThey offer one thing just to look good and be impressive, and they ainâ€™t trying to do nothing to help nobody,â€ Neal added. â€œThey ainâ€™t looking at the low class or the middle class. They all about the rich and wealthy.â€
Neal said he thinks North Omaha will come out and vote for President Obama again, but he canâ€™t say if the numbers will be as high. â€œI hope,â€ Neal said. â€œI hope even more maybe because if they donâ€™t, we will sufferâ€¦ Itâ€™s self-explanatory for me. Iâ€™ll be voting for Barack Obama.â€
While Obamaâ€™s support might be steadfast in North Omaha, itâ€™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 thatâ€™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 thatâ€™s how sheâ€™ll be voting next week. â€œIâ€™ve always known I was a Republican,â€ she said. â€œBut I feel like I support Republican views more now since Iâ€™ve grown and matured.â€
â€œI mean Obama was a great talker and we needed change then,â€ she added. â€œBut â€¦ heâ€™s talking now like he is just starting his four years. Heâ€™s really not reflecting back on the fact that he had four years to prove himself, and he didnâ€™t really do much of anything. Why would things change in these four years if they havenâ€™t in the past four years?â€
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 â€“ then. â€œMainly just because I liked him at the time,â€ Bochnicek said. â€œI mean, I still kinda like him. But I just donâ€™t like the fighting that goes on between the two of them.â€
â€œThey seem really arrogant a lot of the time and that bothers me,â€ he said. â€œThe commercials, theyâ€™re just trying to destroy, theyâ€™re trying to bring each other down instead of trying to say what each other wants to do. Thereâ€™s always a hidden message of attack, and I just canâ€™t stand that.â€
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, thereâ€™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 visited Omaha, while Congressman Paul Ryan, Vice President Joe Biden and President Obama have all visited the Bluffs â€“ which shares a media market with Omaha. And just this week, President Bill Clinton made another stop there campaigning for the President.
Julie Garman crossed the river to hear him. Garman is a stay-at-home mom with two daughters, and said she supported Obama in 2008 and sheâ€™ll do so again this year. But being a blue supporter in a red state, she said, is not always easy. â€œSometimes I find that, at least where I live in my neighborhood, a lot of people are very conservative,â€ Garman said. â€œSo sometimes you just have to bite your tongue.â€
â€œBut…so much of it is about womenâ€™s health and rights for gay marriage and those kind of things that are just so fundamentally important to me,â€ she added, â€œthat I canâ€™t understand how people canâ€™t see that thereâ€™s like a huge difference between the two sides.â€
â€œThe bottom line is always the same in presidential politics,â€ said political analyst Landow.
â€œDemocrats vote for Democrats and Republicans vote for Republicans, and that leaves a narrow slice in the middle.â€
Landow said if he were to place Omaha on the electoral map this year, heâ€™d put the district down as â€œlean red.â€
â€œI would say that itâ€™s not impossible for President Obama to win the district still,â€ he said. â€œBut I would have to say that I believe itâ€™s unlikely. Far more likely governor Romney will win it.â€
Weâ€™ll find out on Election Day. Just four more days.
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