Democrat Patty Pansing Brooks lost the special election to replace the forced-to-resign Jeff Fortenberry, but not by as high a percentage as Democrats have been walloped in the past in the reliably red district.
This is giving Democrats hope for the general election with the same candidates in November.
Rural voters carried Republican State Sen. Mike Flood to a seat in Congress in Tuesday’s special election. But State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks’ better-than-expected results in urban and suburban counties could spice up the pair’s rematch this fall.
Flood collected more than 80% of the vote in five of the 1st Congressional District’s rural counties: Butler, Colfax, Cuming, Polk and Stanton. He also won more than 80% of the vote in Platte County (Columbus) and in Madison County (Norfolk), where he lives.
Pansing Brooks, who lives in Lincoln, tallied more votes in Lancaster County than other Nebraska Democrats running for the House in recent years. She won 57% of the vote in her home county, which has more than half of the district’s voters and most of its registered Democrats.
Local political observers, including University of Nebraska-Lincoln political scientist John Hibbing, said Republicans appeared less motivated than Democrats to vote in the special election, because Republicans expected the GOP to win.
It had been 18 years since the 1st District seat was open. Former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., trounced his last few opponents. The next closest race to Tuesday’s was Fortenberry’s first, in 2004. He beat Democrat Matt Connealy 54% to 43%.
Fewer voters in the 1st District’s GOP-leaning counties voted in the special election than participated a month earlier in the May 10 primary election.
Voting in each of those counties was down by at least 18%, based on a post-election analysis done for Flood’s campaign. Additionally, 3% more voters showed up for the special election in Democratic-leaning Lancaster County than voted during the primary.