It is a race.
The battle between Democrat Tom White and Republican Lee Terry in the Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District remains competitive, with The World-Herald Poll showing that Terry has an edge but not an insurmountable lead.
Forty-four percent of registered voters said they would vote for Terry, while 39 percent chose White.
However, Terry’s lead grew to 8 percentage points among more committed voters — those who said they had already voted or definitely planned to vote.
The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
“Anytime it’s within the margin of error, the candidate who is down can win,” said Randy Adkins, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
A state senator from Omaha, White is making his first bid for Congress against Terry, a six-term congressman. The two have been turning up the heat in the race, with White trying to convince voters that a new face is needed in Washington and Terry saying White will go to Washington and toe the Democratic line.
The survey’s differing results between all registered voters and those who said they definitely planned to vote underscores what will be a pivotal factor in this race: turnout.
It is a huge task for White, who has to find a way to motivate his base and his supporters to go to the polls during an off-year election, when President Barack Obama is not at the top of the Democratic ticket.
It also is a year when Republicans appear to be more motivated than Democrats, in part because of the growing tea party movement and concern over the economy.
And it is a year in which there is no high-profile U.S. Senate or governor race on the ballot, which can typically generate interest in an election and drive more people to the polls.
But if White can turn “maybe” voters into actual voters, he has a shot.
“If White pulls this out and wins this, it’s because he’s been out mobilizing his base,” said Adkins.
Terry also has to worry about turnout. He is now running in a district that is nearly evenly divided between Republican and Democratic voters. One out of five voters identifies himself or herself as independent.
If Terry’s supporters think he has it won and stay home, that could hurt him on Election Day. “He still has to convince people to turn out to vote,” said Adkins.
The World-Herald Poll also included a question about how each candidate was viewed by the electorate.
It showed that after 12 years in Congress, Terry is neither a popular nor unpopular figure in the district.
Nearly equal numbers of people said they had a favorable or unfavorable view of Terry. About one in five voters chose “neutral” as their feelings toward Terry.
White appears to be an unfamiliar face to many Omahans. Of those with an opinion of White, about a third viewed him favorably, while a third said they had an unfavorable view. Another third identified themselves as “neutral” on White.
The poll also confirmed the two men’s political bases.
As is typical for a Republican, Terry’s strongest base of support was in southwest and northwest Omaha. He also was heavily favored in the northern section of Sarpy County, which is part of the 2nd District.
White’s strongest support came from northeast and southeast Omaha.
Interestingly, White was running ahead of Terry within the city of Omaha by 5 percentage points, but Terry had nearly more than a 20-point lead in the remaining parts of the district, including Sarpy County and rural parts of Douglas County.
The survey was conducted Oct. 17 through 21. It included 607 registered voters across the district.
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