Abortion versus inflation could decide Flood-Pansing Brooks rematch this fall
LINCOLN — The fall rematch of this summer’s special election for Congress between Republican U.S. Representative Mike Flood of Norfolk and State Senator Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, a Democrat, will heat up next week.
Flood and Pansing Brooks will debate their general election race for the first time on Sunday at 5 p.m. on KETV in Omaha. Then on Tuesday, Pansing Brooks hits the airwaves with a TV commercial. Flood’s campaign is also gearing up for television.
Both candidates focus on issues that motivate different voters. Pansing Brooks talks about abortion rights and health care. The floods emphasize the rising cost of living, including inflation and rising interest rates.
A new neighborhood
Political watchers expect a more competitive race than is typical in the 1st Congressional District, which includes Lincoln and much of eastern Nebraska outside of the Omaha area. The district leans Republican, but the redistricting has made it slightly more competitive.
The Legislature swapped some of the rural 1st District voters for voters from two of Sarpy County’s major suburbs, Papillion and La Vista. Many Sarpy residents are used to voting in the Omaha-based 2nd congressional district, not the 1st.
Both candidates said that while on the campaign trail, they continued to talk to Sarpy voters who did not know which district they were in.
Flood beat Pansing Brooks 53% to 47% in Sarpy’s slice of the 1st District, but his special campaign support exceeded how President Joe Biden showed up in those same parts of Sarpy County in the race. 2020 presidential election, analysis of the data by political consultant Missy Wigley showed.
Flood’s campaign said Sarpy County remains conservative and predicts it will backtrack. Flood said he expects to be able to increase his membership in northeast Nebraska with Columbus native Jim Pillen as the GOP candidate for governor.
What the special showed
This summer, Flood won the 1st District’s tightest race in decades, beating Pansing Brooks by 6,200 votes. The special election sent Flood to Congress, where he is completing the final six months of former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s 2020 term.
Fortenberry resigned from office in March after being convicted of three crimes involving illegal foreign funds raised for a previous congressional campaign. Under federal law, only Americans can donate to congressional campaigns.
Part of what brought the special election closer is that Flood’s campaign had spent much of its war chest challenging Fortenberry in the GOP primary campaign, before Fortenberry resigned. Flood’s campaign listed about $1,000 in cash after the special election.
Pansing Brooks, on the other hand, spent sparingly on his May primary campaign. His campaign also outspent Flood on the special election, choosing to set aside more than $300,000 in cash for the November rematch.
The two contestants have raised over a million dollars. Flood raised $1.382 million and spent $1.381 million, based on the latest federal campaign finance reports. Pansing Brooks raised $1.04 million and spent over $686,000.
What’s different now
Now that he’s incumbent in the House, Flood has access to a broader group of domestic donors through House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. But Republican outside donors widely believe the GOP-leaning 1st District can be won without their help.
The district has nearly 68,000 more registered Republican voters than Democrats. Fortenberry has won its last races by 20 percentage points or more. Flood, in the special election, beat Pansing Brooks by about 6 percentage points.
Pansing Brooks’ campaign narrowed the gap by winning nearly 58% of the vote in Lancaster County, his home county, where more than half of the district’s voters live. Flood won the race by winning big in northeast Nebraska, where he lives.
A Republican political consultant, who spoke on condition not to be named, said Pansing Brooks would need to win more than 60% of the vote in Lancaster County to stand a chance. Her campaign team said they believe they can hit that number.
The impact of abortion
Timing was another factor that tightened the special election. The June 28 contest came just days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The Dobbs decision ended the national right to abortion and returned the choice to the states.
Flood, who authored Nebraska’s current restrictions that ban abortions after 20 weeks, backed a “trigger bill” in this year’s legislative session that would have created a nearly complete ban on abortions after the court overturned Roe.
Effort fell two voices short of passage because of a filibuster led by Pansing Brooks and other Democratic senators. Pansing Brooks spent much of the run-up to the special election making the case for the importance of abortion rights.
In Congress, Flood reiterated his opposition to abortion. He and his GOP colleagues opposed a Democratic-led effort to codify protections in federal law for birth control, citing concerns about religious freedom in contraceptive coverage.
Many House Republicans, including Flood, have voiced support for a proposal to limit abortion nationwide to 15 weeks.
“People are comfortable with the restrictions. She opposes all efforts to have reasonable restrictions,” Flood said of Pansing Brooks. “She wants the government to pay for abortions. She was a board member of Planned Parenthood.
Pansing Brooks and her campaign said they aimed to make abortion rights and reproductive health a central part of the race. They say the issues will motivate women to vote Democratic, including women in suburban Omaha who typically don’t.
“The issue of abortion and women’s reproductive health, birth control, the ability of physicians and patients to make their own health care decisions and not to coerce government health care mandates health, that’s one of the really big issues,” she said.
Higher costs, inflation
Flood has focused its campaign on inflation, which has now peaked at 9%, year-over-year, and rising costs for household goods. It also targets rising interest rates, which increase borrowing costs for homes, cars and credit cards.
The latest 30-year mortgage interest rates are above 6.5%. Just two years ago, they were below 3%. Flood attributes the higher costs to increased federal spending during the COVID-19 pandemic. He says he will support measures to slow this down.
Economists said the new spending contributed to the rise in inflation, but they also attribute the rise to higher energy costs resulting from the war in Europe between Russia and Ukraine and problems and shortages of supply chain related to COVID-19.
“We’re in a recession,” Flood said. “The cost of groceries and gasoline and consumer prices are on the rise. The highest inflation in 40 years. … My opponent thinks the government is the solution. I think the government is the problem.
Flood said if people like the way things are going under Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, they should elect his opponent. Those who don’t, he said, should vote for him. Pansing Brooks said this race is about the Nebraskas, not Biden or Pelosi.
Pansing Brooks pointed to Flood’s vote against the Cut Inflation Act, including its provision allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug costs for seniors. She said Congress needs to focus on healthcare costs.
“We should be ready to help fight inflation every step of the way,” she said. “People are suffering.”
Health care, bipartisanship
Flood said he supports improving access to health care, including federal support for critical access hospitals and congressional efforts to increase billing transparency.
Both candidates agreed on the need to cross the aisle without compromising their principles. In separate interviews on Friday, both criticized their opponent for being less bipartisan than they portrayed during the campaign.
Said Pansing Brooks: “People are tired of throwing grenades, pointing fingers. I plan to go to Congress and find 40 people of good will who will work for the Americans.
Saïd Flood: “My balance sheet has always been conservative. It speaks to the idea that I can take conservative positions and do it in a way that doesn’t attack the other side.
Political observers expect a higher turnout on November 8 than in the special election. But experts disagreed on which questions would motivate more voters to turn out.