COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (AP) — Omaha was on President Barack Obama's mind Monday, when he gave a shout-out to the city that went for him in 2008 during a speech in neighboring Iowa.
Many in the audience of roughly 4,000 at a downtown park in Council Bluffs were clearly from the Omaha area, which went for the Democrat four years ago and gave him one of the Republican-leaning state's five Electoral College votes. Speaking in Council Bluffs, Obama was able to appeal to those voters again while seeking support in up-for-grabs Iowa.
"This is important for Council Bluffs and Omaha," Obama said as he described his plans for the country.
In most states, Electoral College votes are winner-take-all. Nebraska and Maine are the only ones that award them by congressional district. It usually isn't an issue in conservative Nebraska, but the Obama campaign worked hard in 2008 to organize supporters and score a victory.
Repeating that achievement this year could be difficult, however. The Legislature reduced the number of Democrats in the 2nd District as part of the redrawing of district boundaries following each census. And some Nebraska Democrats said the Obama campaign hasn't worked as hard to mobilize voters this year.
"They're not doing anything in the second congressional district," U.S. Senate candidate Bob Kerrey said at a news conference last week. "It's a very secretive operation if they have one. I haven't seen it."
Some of those at the rally said they remained optimistic about Obama's chances in the 2nd District.
"I still think everybody's fired up about being the 'blue dot city,'" said Jim Cavanaugh, of Omaha, referring to the city's nickname after Obama's 2008 win. "We're lucky to be this close to a battleground state. We get the benefit of being in play, where Nebraska is pretty much ignored."
But Cavanaugh said even in Omaha, voters have grown impatient with the still sputtering national economy.
"It's all about the economy and jobs," he said. "Turning the economy around is a huge job. It seems the worst is behind us, and that gives people hope that over the next four years, we can get back to prosperity."
David Zellmer, an Omaha resident who voted for Obama in 2008, said Nebraska's 3.8 percent unemployment rate, the nation's second lowest, gave him some hope Obama would score another upset.
"I don't know that he's lost any support," Zellmer said.
As people waited in a line that snaked for blocks through downtown Council Bluffs, Obama campaign volunteers urged them to vote early by mail.
Nebraska Democratic Party executive director Jim Rogers said Obama still has an "extremely good" chance of winning in the 2nd District, citing interest in the Council Bluffs event.
Other Obama supporters from Omaha weren't as optimistic.
"I don't think he can get Omaha again," said Megan Dakin, as she waited in a line that snaked down a dozen blocks. "I just feel like the atmosphere in Omaha is more like it used to be. People don't seem to be as fired up about it. I don't think voting will be as high as it was. I'd love it if he got Omaha again, but I don't see it happening."
Nebraska Republican Party Chairman Mark Fahleson said the president's decision not to hold any events in Omaha, despite landing at Offutt Air Force Base in the suburb of Bellevue, was an indication of Obama's chances.
"The 2nd Congressional District was a personal favorite target of the Obama campaign in 2008, and four years later, the president can't be bothered to campaign here," Fahleson said. "His refusal to stop in Omaha to help himself or Bob Kerrey suggests that Republican opposition this year is too much to overcome."