“There is a ‘Nebraska nice’ slogan,” Bacon said, noting that Republicans did not attempt to crack the city of Omaha in a way that would doom Democrats competing in the district.
“You look at the Illinois map, you look at the New York map, look at New Jersey map — I’ll leave it at that,” Bacon said, referencing redistricting proposals in Democratic states. “The maps they’re coming out with, they’re hardcore.”
Republicans control the Nebraska’s unicameral legislature and governor’s mansion but are limited somewhat because they lack the votes to break a Democratic filibuster. Democrats are in a similar situation in Maine, where they control all levers of government but are shy of the two-thirds majority to pass new congressional maps unilaterally. Maine also has a bipartisan advisory redistricting commission.
The result: The two most consequential congressional districts in the country are fairly insulated from partisan gerrymandering. They will remain among the most contested places in the battle for the House next year — and Omaha and rural Maine will still be on the travel schedule for presidential candidates in 2024.
In the new map, Bacon’s 2nd District still includes all of Omaha’s Douglas County, but it trades some portions of suburban Sarpy County for a ruby-red rural county to the west. Biden would have won the new seat by roughly the same margin as he did in 2020. Bacon won by 5 points, despite Trump’s struggles in his district.
In an interview, Bacon said he knew the legislature got the best compromise it could, given Democrats mounted a filibuster. But, he added, he’s disappointed that his seat remained so competitive even though he’s proved adept at winning tough races.
“When you’re fighting for your life every two years, it’s hard to focus on trying to get into leadership because they’re going to get someone who can win easily,” Bacon said. “If you’re fighting to save that district, it really is hard to say, ‘Hey, I want to be the conference chair or the whip,’ because you become a bigger target.”
Nebraska GOP Gov. Pete Ricketts signed the new Nebraska map into law on Thursday.
A day earlier, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills approved a new Maine map that makes modest shifts between the state’s two districts. Golden gained the state capital, Augusta, but Democrats had hoped to nudge Waterville, home to the liberal arts school Colby College, into the district. Still, both towns have small populations and wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
“It was kind of wash whatever you did,” said Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Golden’s southern neighbor. “For the Republicans who wanted to keep the district more Republican, either one of those towns wasn’t a good move. But it doesn’t make it Berkeley, doesn’t make it San Francisco.”
Trump won Golden’s northern Maine seat by 7 points in 2020. Under the new map, his margin would have been only slightly smaller.
Maine has just two districts. In 2020, Biden won about 60 percent of the vote in Pingree’s district, which includes the state’s largest city, Portland. She conceivably could have ceded enough voters to Golden to make his district at least a little more favorable — though it will be a top GOP target regardless.
Former Rep. Bruce Poliquin, the Republican who lost to Golden through ranked-choice voting in 2018, is launching a rematch. Golden was able to outrun Trump so easily in 2020 thanks to a poorly funded Republican opponent; Poliquin will certainly be a more prolific fundraiser.
If Trump does choose to run again in 2024, he will still be the favorite to win Maine’s 2nd District, which gave him its electoral vote in both 2016 and 2020. But it’s unclear if another GOP candidate would hold the same appeal. The seat voted twice for Barack Obama, with one of the biggest rightward swings between 2012 and 2016.
“The Trump thing was such an anomaly in politics because it brought out so much more of the, ‘I’m the little guy, and I hate the big guy.'” Pingree said. “That was something he successfully messaged.”
During the presidential primary, she said she encountered supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who planned to vote for Trump if Sanders did not win the Democratic nomination.
“We’re an odd state,” she said. “Our Republicans don’t tend to be Christian conservatives. They tend to be more libertarians, just sort of grumpy — ‘Don’t take away my guns. Don’t take away my marijuana.'”