More registering independent in Nebraska's 2nd District

Terry leads White in fundraising

Published Tuesday, September 21, 2010: By Margery A. Beck, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

As Democratic state Sen. Tom White tries to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Lee Terry in the Omaha-centric 2nd District, the unknown factor is a growing number of voters not affiliated with either party.

More than one in five registered voters in the 2nd District are not affiliated with a party. Independent voters in the district have increased by nearly 10,000 since 2006 to more than 82,600 by mid-September -- a 13 percent jump.

The recent growth in nonpartisan voters could be coming from a number of areas, said Randall Adkins, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. They could include young people who may not yet have a strong party identity, or older people just entering the system who may identify with a party but feel disenfranchised, he said.

The change also is likely indicative of a growing dissatisfaction with Washington partisan politics seen across the country, Adkins said.

"You've got this whole group of people who are in this anti-government tea party movement," he said. "There's a real displeasure with what's going on in government. In various polls, if you ask people whether we as a country are on the right track, three-fourths of them are saying we're off on the wrong track."

The growing number of independent voters makes the November outcome of the 2nd District race harder to predict, he said.

Terry is seeking his seventh term in Congress, having weathered formidable challenges from Democrat Jim Esch in his past two campaigns. In 2008, Esch came within 4 percentage points of knocking off Terry.

That led both the national Republican and Democratic parties to consider the seat vulnerable to a Democratic takeover in 2010.

However, the Cook Political Report, a Washington-based newsletter, ranks Nebraska's 2nd District seat as "likely Republican" in the November election. The Washington-based, nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report also has Terry likely to win re-election.

But representatives for both Terry and White claimed an advantage from the growing number of independents.

White's campaign manager, Ian Russell, noted that Terry lost independent voters in the May primary who voted for Terry's GOP rival, self-proclaimed tea party candidate Matt Sakalosky. Those voters could turn to White, whom Russell called "an independent leader" and "a fiscal conservative."

"They are fed up with both parties in Washington," Russell said. "While they are frustrated with some aspects of the Obama administration, they also don't want to go back to the irresponsible spending and deficits of the Bush years that got us into this mess."

Terry's campaign manager, Dave Boomer, said history favors Terry.

Turnout among unaffiliated voters tends to drop in mid-cycle election years, he said, as it did in 2006, when about 32 percent of nonpartisan voters cast ballots -- compared with nearly half of all registered voters that year. Terry garnered about half of the independent vote in 2008 -- a year when nonpartisan voters across the country cast ballots 2-to-1 for Democratic President Barack Obama, Boomer said.

"If the Democrats could win every independent voter in November -- and the turnout is the same as it was in 2006 -- it would still come out even ... and that's not going to happen," he said.

Terry's campaign has also been targeting independent voters this year, Boomer said.

"If there's a nonpartisan voter out there who is likely to vote in November, they've heard from us four, five or six times this summer," he said.

Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps said the number of registered independent voters in his county -- the state's most populous with nearly 381,000 registered voters -- has increased by nearly 11 percent since 2006 and more than 7 percent since 2008, the year Obama was elected president.

"We saw a swing from Republicans to Democrats in 2008, but we also saw a lot of people switch to nonpartisan," Phipps said. "It seems like maybe there is some tiredness of the two-party system."


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