The political fortunes of Democrats Bob Kerrey and President Barack Obama appear to be tied together in Nebraska — and that's bad news for Kerrey and his comeback bid for U.S. Senate, according to The World-Herald Poll.
Kerrey and Obama each trailed his respective Republican opponent by about 10 percentage points in a statewide poll of 800 registered voters.
The margin was even worse for Kerrey when the poll was narrowed to likely voters, with the former governor and two-term senator trailing Republican State Sen. Deb Fischer by 16 percentage points — 56 percent to 40 percent.
However, it wasn't all bad news for Obama.
The survey showed the president again has a chance of winning an electoral vote in the Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District, with the district split at 44 percent each for Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
The poll was conducted Sept. 17-20 by Wiese Research Associates of Omaha. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
The poll comes as the candidates and their campaigns enter the home stretch of this year's election. In a little more than a week, voters in Douglas County and across the state will begin casting early ballots in election offices and by mail. The election offices will open for early voting Oct. 1. Also that day, early ballots will be mailed to voters on request.
The next eight days are particularly critical for Kerrey, with his final face-offs with Fischer in debates on Friday and again on Oct. 1.
The survey shows that Obama and Kerrey have a lot of ground to make up between now and Election Day. It also shows that Obama, an unpopular figure in large parts of Nebraska, appears to be a drag on Kerrey's campaign — though Kerrey has tried to distance himself from the president.
Kerrey's and Obama's poll numbers mirror each other's in all three of the state's congressional districts. That would indicate Kerrey is having trouble persuading Republicans to cross party lines in a presidential year when a Democrat is at the top of the ticket.
For example, Kerrey and Obama both trailed in the vast 3rd Congressional District by 25 percentage points or more. And Kerrey and Obama each hit the same 43 percent support in the Lincoln-centered 1st Congressional District.
A big hurdle for Kerrey is the dwindling number of undecided voters.
Only about 6 percent of registered voters did not have a preference in the U.S. Senate race. That means Kerrey will have to persuade a fair number of voters who supported Fischer to change their minds and back his candidacy.
Another problem for Kerrey is his favorable/unfavorable rating.
More voters have a negative view of Kerrey than they do of Fischer. Kerrey has been hammered by third-party super PACs and others for returning to the state to run after living 12 years in New York City.
About 38 percent of voters said they “strongly” or “generally” had an unfavorable view of Kerrey, while only 21 percent had a similar opinion of Fischer.
Surprisingly, a big bloc of voters apparently did not know enough about Fischer or Kerrey to have a strong impression of either: 25 percent had a “neutral” view of Kerrey, while 31 percent had a “neutral” view of Fischer.
Fischer's base of support is in the GOP bastion of western and central Nebraska — the district the Valentine rancher has called home for about 40 years. Sixty percent of voters in the 3rd District, which encompasses much of rural Nebraska, said they supported Fischer. Thirty-five percent backed Kerrey.
|Barack Obama||Mitt Romney||Joe Biden||Paul Ryan||Deb Fischer||Bob Kerrey|
Other interesting tidbits in the poll:
» There was a big gender gap in the Fischer-Kerrey race among men. Fischer dominated among male voters, besting Kerry by 20 percentage points: 58 percent for Fischer, 38 percent for Kerrey. The female vote was evenly divided: 47 percent for Fischer, 45 percent for Kerrey.
» Kerrey's edge was among independent voters: 47 percent for Kerrey, 41 percent for Fischer.
» Kerrey had a slight lead in the Omaha-based 2nd District: 47 percent for Kerrey, 44 percent for Fischer. Fischer had strong support in the Lincoln-based 1st District: 54 percent for Fischer, 43 percent for Kerrey.
» Obama is not liked in western Nebraska. Sixty percent of voters there expressed a negative opinion of the president. Of those, nearly half “strongly” disapproved of the president. Statewide, more people disapproved than approved of the president: 38 percent held a favorable view, while half viewed him in a negative light.
» Nebraska may not love Obama, but the state also is not enamored of his Republican opponent. Only 43 percent of registered voters had a favorable view of Romney, with 38 percent expressing a negative opinion. A big chunk — 17 percent — were neutral.
» Joe Biden got no love in Nebraska. Only 26 percent of Nebraskans viewed the Democratic vice president in a favorable light, while 46 percent held a negative view. Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate, fared better but was hardly an overwhelming favorite in the state. Forty-two percent had a favorable opinion of Ryan, while 30 percent held a negative view.
» Obama's base of support in Nebraska continues to be Omaha, even though he has put minimal effort into winning the 2nd District this year.
In 2008, Obama became the first Democrat since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 to win an electoral vote in Nebraska. He did it after opening three campaign offices and hiring more than a dozen full-time campaign workers.
This year, Obama has opened only one office and hired one campaign worker.
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Editor's note: The methodology for conducting the scientific survey of Nebraska opinion has changed from past World-Herald Polls. In consultation with Wiese Research Associates, we determined it was worth the added effort and expense to include cellphones in the telephone survey. Click here to read more about this change.