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Barking dogs, calls for civility greet Nebraska candidates going door to door

November 6, 2018

Fall in Nebraska brings sun, rain, snow, beautiful leaves — and cadres of political hopefuls standing on doorsteps.

Now, as midterm season comes to a close, those hopefuls are winding up their get-out-the-vote efforts.

Up and down the ballot, candidates report that they’re hearing from voters about health care and education. For state races, property taxe s are a hot topic. Immigration seems to be on the mind of Republicans.

And while voters bemoan the political vitriol every year, candidates say this year they’re hearing even more calls for civility than normal.

In the 2nd Congressional District, which includes Douglas County and part of Sarpy County, Democratic challenger Kara Eastman has made those get-out-the-vote efforts central to her campaign, with her team making it to 185,000 homes so far. Meanwhile the Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee connected to House Speaker Paul Ryan, has had volunteers visiting homes on behalf of Eastman’s opponent, Republican incumbent Don Bacon, since February.

In 2018, door-knocking relies on apps rather than paper lists of voters. But candidates still use shoe leather — several report having worn out three or more pairs of shoes by now.

For legislative candidates, each district has its own set of concerns, but there are also themes candidates and their backers pick up on as they make their rounds. Prevalent ones are property taxes and partisanship. And dogs.

“Dogs are a big part of door-knocking,” said Steve Lathrop, a Democrat running to take back his former legislative seat in the Ralston area from Republican Merv Riepe in the officially nonpartisan race.

“I’ve only been bitten once,” said Matt Deaver, a Republican attorney running against Democrat Wendy DeBoer in the northwest Omaha-Bennington district.

When faced with a barking dog, Bacon often announces “you’ve got a good guard dog there.” Reaching down to pet one, he’ll say: “Let’s see if he takes a bite of Bacon.” (The dog in question did not.)

Another perk of door-knocking: DeBoer and Deaver, who grew up a few blocks away from each other and were one year apart throughout school, both visited their childhood homes this week.

But door-knocking is serious business. Control of the House is on the line, and many Republicans want to talk to their congressman about the president or Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

“Overall, I think Trump has done a very good job at getting the issues that need to be addressed, addressed. He just needs a filter,” said 34-year-old Kyle Griffith, a Republican who wanted to talk to Bacon about tariffs and banking regulations.

Some Democrats said they found Eastman to be refreshing.

“She’s running with people like me in mind,” said Mindy Burroughs, 32.

Burroughs, a pastry chef, and her husband, Nick Burroughs, said they were most excited to vote for Medicaid expansion.

Other voters were interested in the fate of the Affordable Care Act.

Some people like the incumbents.

“Ricketts, of course, has tried to keep prices down,” said Bill Pitre, 84. “Don Bacon’s been good for our military. And Deb (Fischer) keeps fighting.”

People across the political spectrum said they wanted to hear a better level of discussion from all of their elected officials.

“I love our democracy and I’m tired of seeing it be used against some people” through “fear mongering,” said Margarita Safranek, a 36-year-old registered nonpartisan.

In particular, negative TV ads and mailers can grate on voters. But some mind less than others.

“We just blank out the address and put them in the recycle pile,” said 70-year-old Ron Boham of Ralston, a Democrat who said he’s looking for candidates who put people over money.

Many people opening their doors to candidates said they want to make sure their local school districts have the resources that children need.

Kendall Taylor, a 29-year-old District 66 employee, said his top priority is the Omaha Public Schools and “making sure they get what they need to meet state standards.”

His neighbors, Dustin Simmons, 28, and wife Kealia Watts, 26, said they wanted to make sure the state funds higher education.

“It frustrates me how expensive college has gotten,” Simmons said.

Of course property taxes are a major concern, especially in the areas of Douglas County where assessments rose over the past few years.

“It just doesn’t seem fair,” said Joel Stolley of Elkhorn, who said his home assessment increased by $40,000 in the past few years. He said he’s looking closely at the Douglas County assessor’s race, where Democratic incumbent Diane Battiato is being challenged by Republican Walt Peffer.

Republican Alice Burns said she hopes that more young people like her grown children turn out to vote this year.

“That’s your voice,” she said. “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.”

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