Can Democrats move Nebraska out of backwaters?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Modern political science students might find it hard to believe, but Nebraska wasn't always a political backwater.

McCook, in particular, has hosted more than its share of politicians, including President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during at least one campaign swing through the state -- thanks, no doubt, to this being Sen. George W. Norris' hometown. While many were actual "whistle stop" campaigns, from the back of a railroad car, by the time Bobby Kennedy came to speak at Memorial Auditorium in 1968, he arrived by plane.

Things have changed to the point that President Bill Clinton didn't set foot in the state until the waning days of his second term.

That's because most of the slates are set long before Nebraska's primary, and, by the time the national conventions arrive -- the Democrats will be in Denver in 2008 -- they are little more than rubber-stamp events unworthy of even a few hours of prime-time television network coverage.

Nebraska Democrats are trying to change the situation, but they may be facing an uphill battle.

On Saturday, the party decided to conduct presidential caucuses a year from now, on Feb. 9, voting their choices for president at the same time they choose delegates to their county conventions.

Delegates to the national convention in Denver will be chosen later, at the party's state convention.

But Nebraska isn't alone in vying for the national spotlight. Besides traditional caucuses in Iowa and Nevada, and presidential primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina, several big states, including California, Florida, Illinois and New Jersey, are considering caucuses on Feb. 5.

Nebraska Democrats hope that our state's caucus will still make a difference a week later.

Many of us are still tired from the brutal 2006 election, especially the Ben Nelson-Pete Ricketts spending battle. We're not eager to jump back right back into such an inevitably negative atmosphere.

But if the Democrats' move forces more national candidates to pay attention to issues important to Nebraskans, we hope the Republicans follow suit.

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