Mayor Jim Suttle, while still suffering a lagging approval rating, may have enough support to give him a shot at re-election.
The World-Herald Poll reveals 40 percent of voters would vote for Suttle in next spring's city election. His job approval rating stood at 42 percent — nine points higher than when Suttle was facing a failed recall effort.
If Suttle can just hold that support, it probably would be enough to advance the mayor through a five-candidate primary election.
“That's not a big base of support, but it's a base of support he can work with,” said Randall Adkins, chairman of the University of Nebraska at Omaha's political science department.
“This says that Suttle's in the game. He's a viable candidate.”
The bad news: 46 percent of voters disapprove of Suttle's job performance, while 39 percent have an unfavorable impression of the mayor.
Only 6 percent of voters hold a “strongly favorable” impression of Suttle, while another 25 percent say they have a “generally favorable” impression.
The number of voters who dislike the mayor is more stark: 20 percent of voters have a “strongly unfavorable” impression of Suttle, while another 19 percent have a “generally unfavorable” view.
Suttle has been flogged with criticism over an attempt to quietly hand out pay hikes to top officials. The Omaha City Council scrapped Suttle's proposed labor deal with the city's firefighters union and stripped his authority to negotiate any labor contract. A mild stroke raised questions about his health.
Now a crowded field of challengers is vying to replace the lone Democrat in the nonpartisan race.
His four opponents are: State Sen. Brad Ashford, businessman Dave Nabity, City Councilwoman Jean Stothert and former council President Dan Welch. Ashford is running as an independent, while the other three challengers are Republicans.
The top two finishers in that scrum advance to May's general election.
While poll results suggest Suttle may have enough support to emerge from the crowded primary, Adkins said the mayor would bear a heavy load in the general election.
Fifteen percent of voters say they haven't decided who they'll support, so Suttle's path to re-election likely would rely on them.
Democrats are fractured in their view of Suttle — 36 percent of Democrats said they would probably or definitely vote for another candidate. Forty percent of them disapprove of his job performance.
As for the City Council, registered voters gave the body a 55 percent job approval rating.
Despite the mixed ratings from members of his own party, Suttle has some appeal beyond his party. Forty-two percent of independent voters said they would vote for Suttle at the time they were polled; so did 27 percent of Republicans.
Other poll data points to potential advantages for the mayor: 82 percent of voters think things are going well or OK in Omaha.
It will be an easier sell for Suttle to advance through the primary, Adkins said, but winning the general election will require the mayor to increase his support by some 10 percentage points.
“His bigger challenge is going to be when he gets to the election, and once he gets there, then it's just going to be him and another candidate. And that's where the race is really going to heat up,” the professor said.
The World-Herald Poll of 275 registered voters was conducted Sept. 17 through 20 by Wiese Research Associates of Omaha. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.9 percentage points.
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