A redo of the 2014 Nebraska gubernatorial primary

One of the most exciting statewide races in Nebraska over the past 10 years was the 2014 Republican Gubernatorial primary. Our state simply does not have competitive elections. While the 2nd Congressional district in Nebraska has a competitive election every two years, the statewide elections have not been competitive. So we have to look toward the primaries for a competitive statewide election. The primary in 2014 is something that I’ve wanted to look at in more depth for some time.

There were four main candidates trying to be the Republican nominee and for such a conservative state (and a conservative year) would virtually guarantee their election as governor of Nebraska. The candidates were Jon Bruning, Mike Foley, Beau McCoy, and Pete Ricketts. Bruning had been the Attorney General of Nebraska since 2003. He had previously been defeated by Deb Fischer in 2012 in the Republican Senate primary. Mike Foley had previously been the State Auditor of Nebraska and prior to that was in the state legislature. McCoy was a state legislator from Omaha, NE. Ricketts had previously been the Republican nominee for Senate in 2006 before he lost by nearly 30 points to incumbent Ben Nelson.

Spoiler: Ricketts won the nomination in 2014 to be Governor and later won the general election. At some point, Ricketts went from unacceptable to the majority of voting Nebraskans to acceptable. This is interesting in its own right. What is more interesting is that he barely won the nomination in 2014. He won primarily because of a strong showing in Douglas and Sarpy counties allowing him to win two of the largest counties in the state and gain a lot of votes. He won the statewide primary by a little more than 2,000 votes. He won Douglas County by over 4,600 votes. Bruning came in second place.

So, let’s see what would have happened if we employed a county electoral college system similar to one that I proposed in my last post. 

Because Ricketts was able to win Douglas County and Sarpy County, he was able to post wide margins in our county electoral colleges. Mike Foley who won Lancaster County (Lincoln) among a few others so he outperforms in our electoral college system compared to the popular votes. Bruning goes from losing by 2,000 votes to not even garnering 20% of the electoral college system that we set up.

In the system that I created to establish to mirror the U.S.’s system that we currently have, we have the worst performance for Ricketts and Foley. This is not surprising as it was intended to try to decrease the importance of larger counties similar to lessening the amount of electoral votes of New York or California

  Carlson McCoy Bruning Foley Ricketts
% of electoral votes 0.48 9.53 18.26 20.84 50.89

I didn’t talk about Tom Carlson. Carlson was a state legislator who decided to run for Governor. He won the county of Phelps which accounts for his electoral votes in such a system. Foley who finished in 4th place in the popular vote is able to surge to 2nd place in our electoral college creations. He did so by doing well in relatively large counties and winning them, such as Lancaster.

In the modified US system and the other systems that I created, we have essentially the same results. The differences are mainly in rounding differences.

  Carlson McCoy Bruning Foley Ricketts
Modified US System (%) 0.48 9.01 16.75 21.33 52.43
Even split (%) 0.48 8.95 16.78 21.32 52.47
Direct proportional (%) 0.49 8.88 16.80 21.34 52.48

For greater explanations, please go to the previous post.

The largest issue is that since 3 counties in Nebraska contain the majority of the population in Nebraska, there is an outsized importance on those three counties, Douglas, Lancaster, and Sarpy. The other 90 counties in Nebraska account for 48% of the population, with only two other counties even accounting for more than 2% of the population. If we were to redo the primary or create a more fair system, we’d have to consolidate counties to limit the influence of Douglas, Lancaster, and Sarpy county.