In a close race, the presidential election could be decided by an unlikely spot: Nebraska’s Second Congressional District, including Omaha and most of its suburbs.
If the race is decided there, Joe Biden appears to have the advantage, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll. He leads President Trump by seven points, 48 percent to 41 percent, among likely voters in the first nonpartisan survey of the district so far this year, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Unlike most states, Nebraska awards its Electoral College votes by congressional district. Under state law, the winner of Nebraska receives two votes, and the winner of each district receives one. Every other state, except Maine, awards its electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis. As a result, Nebraska’s Second can play a potentially decisive role in an extremely close election: one decided by one vote in the Electoral College.
In an overwhelmingly Republican state, the second district has long loomed as a potential vulnerability for the president. Although the district is traditionally Republican, Mr. Trump carried it by only two percentage points in 2016. The district was even closer than familiar battleground states like Arizona or North Carolina.
The district’s demographics have made it an even more plausible pickup opportunity for Mr. Biden. It’s relatively white, metropolitan and well educated, and national polls routinely show Mr. Biden running ahead of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance among all three groups.
If Nebraska’s Second were a state, it would have the third-highest share of college graduates of any state, trailing Massachusetts and Colorado.
The findings suggest that Mr. Biden has overcome the district’s Republican lean with an overwhelming advantage among independent voters. Over all, Republicans outnumbered Democrats in the survey, whether by party registration or party identification. But Mr. Biden led among independent voters by more than a two-to-one margin, 54 percent to 26 percent. He led among independent white-college graduates by an even wider margin, 64-23.
One electoral vote isn’t much, but it could prove decisive in an increasingly plausible set of circumstances.
Most prominently, a win in Nebraska’s Second would give Mr. Biden exactly 270 electoral votes, the number needed to win, if he held the states carried by Mrs. Clinton and flipped Arizona, Wisconsin and Michigan. It would allow Mr. Biden to win the presidency without Pennsylvania or Florida.
The scenario is unlikely but not far-fetched. Polls show Mr. Biden consistently and comfortably ahead in Wisconsin and Michigan, but often locked in a tight race in Florida or Pennsylvania. Polls have split over whether Mr. Biden enjoys a significant lead in Arizona, but if he does, Nebraska’s Second would be part of a straightforward path to the presidency.
In other scenarios, a Biden win in Nebraska’s Second could force a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College and send the race to the House of Representatives. Mr. Trump would still be favored in the event of an electoral tie, despite Democratic control of the House, because each state congressional delegation receives one vote, and Republicans are expected to win more state congressional delegations than Democrats.
Perhaps the most prominent scenario for an electoral tie: if Mr. Biden holds the states carried by Mrs. Clinton and flips Pennsylvania and Michigan, giving him 268 electoral votes, before Nebraska’s Second gives Mr. Biden 269.
Like Nebraska, Maine also awards its electoral votes by congressional district, and Mr. Biden appears to have another opportunity to win an extra electoral vote in the state’s Second Congressional District. Mr. Biden has generally led in polls of the district this month, including a two-point lead in a Times/Siena poll two weeks ago. The district voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Trump four years ago, and a Biden win in the district could resolve several otherwise tied elections in his favor.
Mr. Biden’s opening in Nebraska’s Second may not necessarily assure victory for Democrats down-ballot in a traditionally Republican area. Nebraska’s Second was the rare district where Republicans survived the so-called blue wave in the 2018 midterm elections, perhaps in part because Democrats selected a progressive nominee who did not receive significant national assistance.