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On the Road: Omaha, Nebraska

“In no time at all we were back on the main highway and that night I saw the entire state of Nebraska unroll before my eyes. A hundred and ten miles an hour straight through, an arrow road, sleeping towns, no traffic, and the Union Pacific streamliner falling behind us in the moonlight. I wasn’t frightened at all that night; it was perfectly legitimate to go 110 and talk and have all the Nebraska towns – Ogallalla, Gothernburg, Kearney, Grand Island, Columbus, unreel with dreamlike rapidity as we roared ahead and talked.”

– Jack Kerouac, “On the Road”

Soy Beans -

This past weekend in Omaha, Republicans knocked on 11,000 doors. Two weeks ago when Barack Obama’s permanent office opened, 1,100 volunteers showed up for the office opening. Eleven hundred people. “We essentially shut down midtown,” said John Berge, Obama’s Nebraska State Director. Omaha — land of one precious electoral vote — is not being conceded.

John Kerry lost Douglas County (where Omaha sits) by roughly 37,500 votes, and by 18%. Of course, Kerry did not work the area. Obama has 15 staff and 10 field organizers in the diverse district. In red Nebraska, which has not given an electoral vote to a Democrat in four decades, Obama has an uphill task. As has been standard in our office-to-office experience, there is much more activity going on in Obama offices than the McCain/Republican offices. As Election Day draws nearer, we expect this differential to narrow.

If Theresa Herring has her way, Omaha and Nebraska will stay in the Republican column. Herring, a volunteer for the Republican Party, is like many Republican volunteers we’ve met, a conscientious self-starter. Nobody called her to volunteer, she just felt it was her obligation to be active if she believed John McCain should be elected. A transplant from Louisiana, Herring simply looked up the local McCain/Republican office in the phone book and got involved. She knocked on some of those 11,000 doors (and 30,000 statewide). Omaha Republicans are a legitimate ground force.

The McCain/Johanns office is two doors down from Scott Kleeb’s Senate campaign office in Omaha (see one of Brett’s photos). But the campaigns here, as they seem to be all over, are courteous with each other. Kleeb has a steep task ahead of him to win the open US Senate seat. His name recognition in Omaha is still very low, given that his 2006 run came in the western 3/4 of the state, the 3d district. Moreover, Johanns is popular as a two-term ex-governor who left office for George Bush’s cabinet in 2005. Nebraska, of course, is one of those states where a small investment can go a long way. Kleeb’s staff knows they need a big win in Omaha to win the state, and the big problem is name recognition and DSCC funding. In that race, look over the next couple weeks to see if any polls show the race in single digits. If that happens, the cheap return-on-investment factor may kick in.

In the presidential race, one key factor to watch is, again, the Voter Protection efforts. Early voting opens in Nebraska on Monday, September 29th, and goes all the way through the day before Election Day. That’s the good news for Barack Obama’s early voting-focused ground game. The bad news is that the lone early voting location as of now is located in a remote area far from Obama’s base.

Issues like the printing of enough ballots are still being negotiated — will the 105% of ballots be based on registration as of the February 9 caucus date or as of a date in October? The answer to that question will affect Democratic fortunes here dramatically. We got the sense that while negotiations were difficult, the fact that they were happening far upstream from November 4 meant that Barack Obama’s campaign has learned from past campaigns that it’s better to be in front of a judge seeking a court order, if necessary, in mid-October rather than 4pm on Election Day.

Tall Grass -


An update on Colorado we’d be remiss without noting. Yesterday morning, the Denver Post reported on the shrinking gap in mail-in ballots between Democrats and Republicans. Key graf:

Republican strategist Sean Tonner said he was “disconcerted” by the latest ballot request tally because the GOP usually has a bigger edge going into Election Day. … “The numbers clearly demonstrate that Democrats have made a significant push on getting their votes in early and capitalizing on the Obama enthusiasm,” Tonner said. “We have our work ahead of us.”

It’s worth a full read.

With so much driving in our trip, we’re physically a little ahead of our reporting. We should note that we’ve been in McCain offices in Omaha, Des Moines and Missouri since John McCain “suspended” his campaign, and they’re all open and working.

We’ve got on deck an Iowa on-the-road focusing on the opening of early voting yesterday morning, but we’re in the car to Mississippi for our on-scene liveblog of the first presidential debate from Oxford. Thanks to everyone for their patience.