An initial look at Douglas County and the 2018 elections

Douglas County is the most populous county in the state of Nebraska.  It is also my home county, so it is not surprising that my analysis of Nebraska elections mainly focuses on Douglas County.  As we saw in the 2018 elections, Nebraska is at the center of the current urban/rural divide that is currently engulfing the country.  Douglas County, the home of Omaha, can see the same effects that we have with the rest of the country.  The difference between Nebraska and the United States as a whole is that the urban areas of Nebraska is not enough to make a statewide election competitive, much less anything close to a win for Democrats. But alas, we will look at how Douglas County voted compared to the state as a whole.  As the precincts results are released for Douglas County, I will provide additional information.   Unlike the rest of the state, Democrats did fairly well in Douglas County.  All Democratic statewide candidates won in Douglas County.  The biggest elections Republicans won in Douglas County (in terms of raw votes) were Douglas County Sheriff and Douglas County Clerk of the Court.


Nebraskans were faced with a ballot measure wherein they could expand Medicaid.  The Governor and state legislature previously declined to expand Medicaid following the ruling by the Supreme Court that the Medicaid expansion of the Affordable Are Act was coercive.  In a surprise, Nebraskans actually expanded Medicaid 53-47.  In Douglas County, Initiative 427 was the most popular thing on the ballot.  It received over 115,000 votes.  This was more than any other candidate running in a contested election.  It was more than most judges received in their retention votes.  The rest of the state provided 230,000 votes for Medicaid expansion.  It was led, though, by Douglas County.  No other Douglas Countywide election for a competitive vote got as many votes as Medicaid expansion.


Bob Krist supported Medicaid expansion while in the unicameral.  His campaign partially ran on expanding Medicaid.  However, he underperformed Initiative 427 by nearly 15,000 votes.  This is one of those things that do not make sense to me.  It’s hard to explain to people: Krist already supported Medicaid expansion.  Ricketts opposed Medicaid expansion through and through.  Ricketts supported candidates who would oppose Medicaid expansion.  He supported primary challenges to state senators who voted for Medicaid expansion.  Yet, there were approximately 15,000 people in Douglas County who supported Medicaid expansion who either explicitly or implicitly voted against Krist. Not voting for a candidate is an implicit vote against the candidate.  Somewhat surprisingly, Ricketts received more votes in Douglas County than Fischer.  Despite this, Krist beat Ricketts by about 9,000 votes.


There was a scandal with respect to the State Auditor Charlie Janssen.  Janssen was caught drinking on the job and collecting his salary. The Democratic challenger was Jane Skinner who was mainly running to be opposition to Janssen.  Skinner was criticized that she was not sufficiently qualified for the position.  In fact, the Omaha World Herald declined to endorse either candidate in the race.  Many Republicans were upset with Nebraska news media for reporting the stories of Janssen drinking on the job.  The Republicans claimed that this story was a political hit job.  Despite the lack of endorsement and probably because of the Janssen scandal, Skinner received the third most amount of votes in Douglas County.  She cleared 100,000 votes.  In my conversations with Republicans, this was the easiest election for them to change their votes on.  Telling the story of Janssen was usually sufficient to convince Republicans to switch their votes in Douglas County.  Janssen got the least amount of votes for a Republican candidate in Douglas County.  There were approximately 8,000 people who voted for Governor but not State Auditor.  This is not surprising because there is likely a number of Republicans in the county who feel like (a) they cannot vote for Janssen because he wasted taxpayer money but (b) they cannot vote for Skinner because she is a Democrat.


Kara Eastman tried to run a progressive campaign for Congress against the incumbent Don Bacon.  Eastman won the primary in an upset over former Congressman Brad Ashford.  There were a lot of progressives who believed that Eastman would be able to provide a better contrast to Bacon rather than the centrist Ashford.  Polls consistently showed Eastman losing by between 7-9 points.  The 2nd Congressional District is usually very competitive.  It remained competitive this year.  For a Democrat to win the Congressional district, the Democrat needs to win Douglas County by more than 11,000 votes.  This is to beat back the number of conservative votes that come from Sarpy County.  Eastman would have needed to outperform Krist in Douglas County to be able to win the district.  Instead, she won Douglas County by right about 4,000 votes.  She lost the district by 4 points.


The Douglas County sheriff race pitted incumbent Timothy Dunning against newcomer and almost millennial (perhaps he is) Mike Hughes.  Douglas County Sheriff’s Department has not had any scandals so it is not surprising that Dunning was able to get re-elected.  In fact, Dunning was the Republican with the most votes in Douglas County.  Dunning won by over 10,000 votes.


Spencer Danner tried to run on protecting voting rights for the state of Nebraska.  Bob Evnan ran, instead, on restricting access to the ballot by running on a voter id platform.  Danner was able to win Douglas County.  But he lost the state overall.  Danner was on the lower end of Democrats receiving votes in Douglas County.  He only won Douglas County by about 7,000 votes.


For some reason, we elect a County Clerk of the court.  Not only is it an elected position, it is a partisan elected position.  The Republican incumbent John Friend won re-election by receiving just over 96,000 votes.  The challenger attempted to tie Friend to a scandal from a number of years ago in which Friend cost Douglas County over $100,000.  It did not work.  Friend won re-election by over 8,000 votes.


Jane Raybould ran a very progressive campaign for Senate.  She focused a lot on gun reform, as well.  Raybould’s campaign sputtered a bit, even in Douglas County.  She received just under 96,000 votes in Douglas County.  The only Democrats she beat with that vote total were Jennifer Hernandez (County Clerk) and Mike Hughes (Douglas County Sheriff).  Even in Douglas County, she did not run that far ahead, especially to make it competitive statewide.


I am not sure of the exact number a Democratic candidate would need to get in Douglas County to make it competitive but based on Initiative 427, a Democrat would likel need to win Douglas County by about 45,000 votes to make it competitive statewide.  That is a giant hurdle for any Democrat to climb.  But there is roughly the number that is needed.