Go figure: Omaha House race turns on voter turnout

Joe Jordan | Nebraska Watchdog

Keep this number in mind: 50.

As in 50 percent.

That’s the number of Omaha’s most loyal Democratic voters, who—according to recent history—won’t vote early or show up on Election Day.

It’s the number that, despite all his well-documented problems, just might help send Republican Congressman Lee Terry back to Capitol Hill for a 9th term.

In recent non-presidential elections voter turnout in Omaha’s predominately black Ward 2 drops by nearly 50%.

It’s also the number Democrat Brad Ashford hopes to find someway around.

You see 50 percent is the voter drop-off in Omaha’s 2nd Ward when the President of the United States is not on the ballot. And of course this year he’s not.

Ward 2 is the city’s predominately black district, home to among others City Councilman Ben Gray and State Sen. Ernie Chambers.

Yes, turnout drops across the city (and the country) in non-presidential years, especially among Democrats, but Ward 2’s drop is dramatic in more ways than one.

First and foremost is the simple fact that when Ward 2 voters show up at the polls, a vote for the Democratic candidate for Congress is virtually guaranteed.

Two years ago 22 of Ward 2’s 23 precincts voted for Democrat John Ewing. Nine of those precincts gave Ewing 90 percent of the vote, one hit an unheard of 96 percent.

Take a look:

The remaining 13 precincts in Ward 2 backed Ewing with some 70-80 percent of the vote.

Contrast that with the city’s predominately Republican west Omaha wards—wards 5, 6 and 7—where voter drop-off is 27 percent, half that of Ward 2.

Fortunately for Ashford in those three GOP wards, the Democratic Congressional hopeful doesn’t get blown out 8-1. Recently while Terry has often received 60 percent of the vote or more, in some of the west Omaha precincts he’s struggled to hit 55 percent. There are even a handful that turned against Terry two years ago.

Here’s one of them:

Democrats are hopeful that two other ballot issues will help swell the inner city turnout: the push to raise the minimum wage which obviously targets low income earner/voters and the Omaha Public Schools $421 million bond issue.

It’s those kinds of votes along with the need to blunt Terry’s command of Sarpy County—it’s been Terry’s political firewall—that Ashford needs, especially in light of those north Omaha voters who are likely to stay home.

Contact Joe Jordan at joe@nebraskawatchdog.org.

Joe can be heard on Omaha’s KFAB radio every Monday morning at 7:40, KLIN in Lincoln every Tuesday morning at 7:35 and KHAS-AM in Hastings every Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. and 12:45 p.m.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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