LINCOLN — The fall rematch of this summer’s special election for Congress between US Republican Mike Flood of Norfolk and Senator Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, a Democrat, is set to heat up next week.

Flood and Pansing Brooks will debate for the first time in their general election race Sunday at 5:00 p.m. on Omaha’s KETV. Then on Tuesday, Pansing Brooks hit the airwaves with a TV commercial. Flood’s campaign is also preparing for television.

Both candidates emphasize issues that motivate different voters. Pansing Brooks speaks about abortion rights and health care. The flood weighs on the increased cost of living, including inflation and rising interest rates.

Political observers expect a more competitive race than is usual in the 1st congressional district, which includes Lincoln and much of eastern Nebraska outside the Omaha area. The district is more Republican, but the redistribution has made it a bit more competitive.

The Legislature traded some of the 1st Circuit’s rural voters for voters in two of Sarpy County’s main suburbs, Papillion and La Vista. Many Sarpy residents are used to voting in Omaha’s 2nd congressional district, not the 1st.

Both candidates said they continue to speak to Sarpy voters throughout the campaign who do not know which house district they are in now.

Flood Pansing beat Brooks by 53% to 47% in the 1st Circuit portion of Sarpy, according to data analysis by Policy Advisor Missy, but their special election support outperformed President Joe Biden’s performance during the 2020 presidential campaign in the same portions of Sarpy County Wigley, a former Deputy Director of the Nebraska Democratic Party.

Flood’s campaign has said Sarpy County remains conservative and predicts it will fight back. Flood said he expects to boost his numbers in Northeast Nebraska with Columbus native Jim Pillen as the GOP nominee for governor.

That summer, Flood won the 1st Circuit’s closest race in decades, beating Pansing Brooks by 6,200 votes. The special election sent Flood into Congress, where he will complete the final six months of former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s 2020 term.

Fortenberry resigned from office in March after being convicted of three crimes derived from illegal foreign funds raised for a previous congressional campaign. Under federal law, only Americans can donate to campaigns for Congress.

Part of what brought the special election closer was that Flood’s campaign had spent much of his 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.

In contrast, Pansing Brooks spent sparingly on her May primary campaign. Her campaign also spent less than Flood on the special election, choosing to set aside more than $300,000 in cash for the November rematch.

Both contestants have raised more than $1 million. Flood raised $1.382 million and spent $1.381 million based on the latest federal campaign financial reports. Pansing Brooks raised $1.04 million and spent more than $686,000.

Now that he’s a House incumbent, Flood has access to a larger pool of national donors through House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. But outside Republican donors find the GOP-leaning 1st District largely winnable without their help.

The district has nearly 68,000 more registered Republican voters than Democrats. Fortenberry won his last races by 20 percentage points or more. Flood beat Pansing Brooks by about 6 percentage points in the special election.

Pansing Brooks’ campaign narrowed the gap by securing nearly 58% of the vote in Lancaster County, her home district, where more than half of the district’s voters reside. Flood won the race by winning big in northeastern Nebraska, where he lives.

A Republican policy adviser, who spoke on condition not to be named, said Pansing Brooks would need to win more than 60% of the Lancaster County vote to stand a chance. Her campaign staff said they believe they can reach that number.

Timing was another factor that aggravated the special election. The June 28 contest came just days after the US Supreme Court ruled Roe v. Wade had lifted instead. The Dobbs decision ended national abortion rights and returned the choice to the states.

Flood, the author of Nebraska’s current restrictions banning abortions after 20 weeks, sponsored a “trigger bill” during this year’s legislative session that would have created a near-total ban on abortions after the court reversed Roe.

The effort fell by two votes because of a filibuster led by Pansing Brooks and other Democratic senators. Pansing Brooks spent much of the run-up to the special election arguing the importance of abortion rights.

In Congress, Flood reiterated his opposition to abortion. He and his GOP colleagues opposed a Democrat-led effort to codify birth control protections into federal law, citing concerns about religious freedom in contraceptive coverage.

Many House Republicans, including Flood, have expressed support for a proposal to limit abortions to 15 weeks nationwide.

“People are comfortable with limitations. It has resisted every effort to impose sane restrictions,” Flood said of Pansing Brooks. “She wants the government to pay for abortions. She was on the board of Planned Parenthood.”

Pansing Brooks and her campaign have said they aim to make abortion rights and reproductive health a central part of the race. They say the issues will motivate women to vote democratically, including women in the Omaha suburbs who don’t typically do so.

“The abortion issue and women’s reproductive health, birth control, the ability of doctors and patients to make their own health care decisions, and not imposing government mandates for health care, that’s one of the really big issues,” she said.

Flood has focused its campaign on inflation, which has now peaked at 9% year-on-year, and the rising cost of household goods. He also targets rising interest rates, which raise the cost of borrowing for homes, cars, and credit cards.

The latest 30-year mortgage rates are above 6.5%. Just two years ago it was less than 3%. Flood blames the higher costs on increased federal spending during the COVID-19 pandemic. He says he will support steps to slow that down.

Economists have said that new spending has contributed to increased inflation, but they also attribute the rise to higher energy costs amid the war in Europe between Russia and Ukraine and supply chain problems and shortages related to COVID-19 are due.

“We’re in a recession,” Flood said. “The cost of food and gasoline, as well as consumer prices, have risen. Highest inflation in 40 years. … My opponent thinks government is the solution. I think the government is the problem.”

Flood said if people like how things are going under Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, they should vote for his opponent. Those who don’t should vote for him. Pansing Brooks said this race is about Nebraskans, not Biden or Pelosi.

Pansing Brooks highlighted Flood’s vote against the Inflation Reduction 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 inflation at every step,” she said. “People Hurt”

Flood said he advocates improving access to health care, including federal support for critical-access hospitals and efforts by Congress to increase billing transparency.

Both candidates agreed that they must reach across 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.

Pansing Brooks said: “People are tired of firing grenades, of pointing fingers. I plan to go to Congress and find 40 goodwill people who will work for Americans.”

Said Flood: “My balance sheet has always been conservative. It’s a testament 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. However, experts were divided on which issues would motivate more voters to show up.

Mike Flood is the founder and owner of Flood Communications and News Channel Nebraska. All stories about him and all declared candidates for Nebraska’s first congressional district during the remainder of his campaign and/or subsequent term were and will be written by outside media.

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