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September 8th, 2023          Political Note #587 Tony Vargas Nebraska 02

2024                                         General Election

Tony Vargas is running against Don Bacon again.  Bacon has won close election after close election:

            2016               48.9 – 47.7

            2018               51.0 – 49.0

            2020               50.8 – 46.2

            2022               51.3 – 48.7

In 2014, Democrat Brad Ashford was elected to Congress by a narrow margin before losing in 2016.  You have to go back to 2010, before redistricting after the 2010 census, to get find an overwhelming Republican victory.  The redistricting after the 2020 census gave Republicans a smidge of an additional advantage.  Don Bacon needed that advantage to defeat Tony Vargas. 

The world has changed a little for both Don Bacon and Tony Vargas since 2022.   The Republicans have gained control of the US House of Representatives.  Don Bacon is no longer an ordinary Congressman.  He has become a leader of the nearly impotent Republican moderates in the House.  He is still ex military.  He retired as a Brigadier General from the Air Force.

During his tenure, he found ways to work with Democrats.  A conventional Republican, of which there are fewer and fewer, he is a supporter of military readiness and military action.  He shares with Democrats, support for Ukraine’s war against the Russian invasion as well as assisting Taiwan in its preparedness.  He was part of the effort to rename military bases that had been called after confederate leaders.  He joined with Democrat Seth Moulton in passing a long-needed anti-lynching law.

In other matters, he voted for the Respect for Marriage Act codifying same sex marriage. He has supported some modest gun safety measures and would support the decriminalization of marijuana.  He was one of the 37 Republican in Congress who acknowledged that Joe Biden was legitimately elected President and was one of the 13 Republicans to support Biden’s Infrastructure Bill.

Nevertheless, Don Bacon is definitely a Republican.  He would make abortion illegal, arguing that fetuses are protected as persons by the 14th amendment.  He voted for the enormous, deficit creating tax cuts under Trump.  He is not at all sure that the climate change we are experiencing is anything other than normal cyclical change.  He would repeal the Affordable Care Act. He would make some cuts in social security. As a leader of the moderate Republicans, he has talked a good game, but acquiesced to the Radical Right Republicans in pressing for spending restrictions associated with raising the national debt limit.  He announced his willingness to work with Democrats to elect a moderate Republican Speaker, but stuck with Kevin McCarthy through the lengthy Speaker selection process.

Except for abortion, eliminating the Affordable Care Act, cutting social security, and his preference for an economy with giveaways to the wealthy and scraps for the poor, Bacon is not so bad.  Fortunately, he is vulnerable; #11 on Len’s List of Vulnerable Republican incumbents.

Tony Vargas is from a different world. His parents immigrated to the United States from Peru.  He had no plans to become a politician.  His family did not talk politics.  They talked about work.  Work was something you do with your hands.

Tony Vargas was not going to work with his hands if his parents could help it.  They had come to New York and lived in Queens.  In order that their children would have a better chance in life, they moved to Long Island for the schools. That worked for Tony Vargas.  He went to the University of Rochester – one of the great small universities in the country.  He would be a teacher.

He returned downstate to get his teaching license at Pace University.  Along the way, he met Lauren Micek.  She had earned her BA at Baylor, a Christian School in Texas. She had worked as a Community Service Worker in California and as a special needs teacher in New York.  She got a job at Teach for America. Tony Vargas worked as a teacher in Brooklyn for Teach for America before joining staff in Manhattan.

Teach for America sent him to Omaha.  Lauren went with him and found Creighton’s law school in Omaha. She became a public defender and then Executive Director of Omaha’s Education Rights Council.  He was appointed to the Omaha School Board, became Executive Director of Omaha Healthy Kids, and then head of the Nebraska Association of Service Providers.  He had become a public policy advocate, a lobbyist.  They had become Nebraskans.

In 2016, Tony Vargas was elected to Nebraska’s unicameral Senate – a 49 member body for which the Republicans have almost a two thirds majority.  Elected with 62% of the vote in 2016, Tony Vargas was re-elected with 78% in 2020.  He has been effective even as a member of a substantial minority.  The Senate has a nine-member Executive Board to which he was elected.  Subsequently, he was elected Vice Chair.

Tony Vargas’s role in the Senate is a little odd.  Only four members of that body are non-white and he is the only Hispanic.  In addition to representing his Omaha district, he serves informally as the representative of Hispanics throughout the state.

His extra representation was particularly visible during the Covid pandemic.  In 2020, much of Nebraska was shut down because of Covid.  Even the legislature was briefly shut down.  When the legislature returned to work, Tony Vargas raised the issue of health and safety in the state’s meatpacking plants. He pointed out that 5,000 of the state’s 25,000 Covid cases were meatpacking workers.  Of those 5,000, 221 had been hospitalized and 21 had died.  A substantial majority of the meatpacking workers were Hispanic and 60% of the state’s confirmed cases of Covid were members of the state’s 11% Hispanic minority. Meatpacking workers were pleading with Tony Vargas to find a way to bring greater oversight to their jobs.

The Nebraska legislature resumed meeting after a four month hiatus for a 16 day, four week fall session to finish the work that had begun in the spring.  Tony Vargas sought the three-fifths majority needed to introduce a new piece of legislation.  If he were allowed to introduce the new bill, it would still require a vote on its substance.  He was seeking to require the meatpacking plant managers to inform workers formally about individuals who tested positive for Covid, to enforce CDC social distancing requirements, and to provide masks to workers.  Eleven Senators abstained, 28 voted yes, 10 voted no.  Tony Vargas needed 30 votes in the 49 member majority to allow consideration of his bill.

The failure was hard on Tony Vargas.  He was particularly responsive to the plight of the meatpackers because his machinist father, back in New York, had died of Covid.

The vote to introduce new legislation was not Tony Vargas’s only bite at the apple.  Previously, he had sought help from the governor, whose non-response included lifting any requirement for a meatpacking plant to report the numbers of workers who tested positive for Covid.  Subsequently, he was able to attach his proposals as an amendment to another bill being considered by the legislature.  A promise of help finally came from the federal government.  Joe Biden signed as executive order in January, 2021, not long after taking office, that called on OSHA to consider emergency standards for Covid.

Under siege, feeling the possibility of state action, federal action, facing lawsuits, and, perhaps, considering the value of keeping employees safe, Nebraska’s meatpackers took steps on their own.  Several companies began providing masks for workers and offered modest provisions for sick pay and short-term disabilities.

Tony Vargas turned his attention to the federal government as well.  In 2022, he ran for Congress and came close to upsetting Don Bacon.  He is running again in 2024.  When recounting the issues on which he is running, he begins with the importance of ensuring that everyone has access to “quality affordable healthcare.” He would allow a choice to buy in to Medicare and would negotiate with the big companies to reduce the cost of pharmaceuticals. Other issues that are part of his campaign are commitments to reproductive freedom, to creating conditions that lead to Nebraska companies paying higher wages, and to protectngr the right to vote.

Don Bacon describes Nebraska 02 as a center-right, Republican leaning district.  Maybe not.  In 2020, Joe Biden carried the old district against Donald Trump 52-48.  In 2022, using the new district lines, state senator Carol Blood lost the district in her race for governor, 48.1 to 48.2.  While the electorate remains the same for 2024, conditions will differ.  A presidential election year will generate greater turnout.  Abortion rights groups will also affect turnout in 2024.  They are planning a statewide vote on abortion in 2024.

If Tony Vargas is to take advantage of the 2024 opportunity, he will need resources.  As of July 1, he was far behind in resources available — $25,000 to Don Bacon’s $860,000.  Help Tony Vargas gear up for this campaign.  September, 2023 seems a long way from November 2024.  It is not.  Help Tony Vargas now.

Competitive Midwest Elections

Vulnerable Democratic Members of Congress in the Midwest

 First term incumbent Eric Sorensen of IL 17 which runs from Rockford south to Dekalb, Champaign, and Springfield is #12 on Len’s List of vulnerable Democrats.   A local prosperous businessman is the only Republican opponent so far. Eric Sorensen began July with $777,000; his Republican opponent had $50,000.

 First term Akron based incumbent Emilia Sykes of OH 13 is # 24 on Len’s List of vulnerable Democrats. Three Republicans have announced including the candidate Emilia Sykes defeated in 2022.    Emilia Sykes began July with $450,000.  Her only opponent with more than $20,000 has dropped out.

 First term Cincinnati based incumbent Greg Landsman of OH 01 is #26 on Len’s List of vulnerable Democrats.  One Republican has announced his candidacy.  Greg Landsman began July with $740,000.  The only announced Republican had not yet raised any money.

 Angie Craig was first elected in 2016. She represents MN 02 which is south of Minneapolis and St. Paul and is  #27 on Len’s List of vulnerable Democrats. Two Republicans have announced their candidacy.  Angie Craig began July with $1.1 million. Neither Republican had raised much money.


 Two Democrats who can flip Midwestern Republican Members of Congress.

Republican first term incumbent Derrick Van Orden in WI #03 along the state’s southwest border with Minnesota is #18 on Len’s List of vulnerable Republicans.  So far the only Democrat to announce is Businesswoman Rebecca Cooke.

Marianette Miller-Meeks in Davenport and Iowa City based IA 01 is #22 on Len’s List of vulnerable Republicans.   Christina Bohannan came close in 2020 and will try again. Iowa, too, will increase turnout if it has an abortion rights constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2024.

Senate races in the Midwest

Ohio. Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown is listed by every pundit as one of the most vulnerable Senators in the 2024 election.  He is the only Democratic statewide office holder in this state that has grown increasingly Republican.  Can Sherrod Brown’s attachment to the state’s blue collar voters, enhanced by his gravelly voice, sustain his election campaign?  Most of the polls conducted in June and July show Sherrod Brown with slim leads against the three major Republican possibilities.  He has armed himself for the campaign and, on July 1, had $8.7 million for his campaign.  The two extremely wealthy Republicans in the campaign can add money whenever they want to.  One had $3.9 million as of July 1; the other had $1.5 million.  Help Sherrod Brown.  He will need more money to sustain his slim lead in the polls.

Wisconsin  Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin is also listed by every pundit as one of the most vulnerable Senators in the 2024 election.  Wisconsin’s voting has been erratic.  In 2022, the state reelected a deeply conservative US Senator 50.5-49.5; it reelected a progressive former school superintendent as Governor 51.2-47.8.  The State elected a Democratic Secretary of State and a Democratic Attorney General and a Republican State Treasurer.  It is not at all clear who Tammy Baldwin’s Republican opponent will be.  A poll in May found her leading a Republican Congressman, who has since announced he would not run for the US Senate, by a single point.  She has raised $5.5 Million for the campaign.  No Republicans have announced; none have reported on their fund raising.  The more Tammy Baldwin raises, the more she will discourage opponents.  Help her out.

Michigan. The Democratic incumbent, Debbie Stabenow, is retiring.  Though there are other Democrats seeking the nomination, the consensus is that Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, descendent of the Hygrade Meat family and former CIA official will be the nominee.  There is no consensus about who the Republican nominee will be.  Michigan Republicans seem to be following 2022 Pennsylvania Republicans in seeking out of staters to run – a the Chair of the RNC who is an exec for the NY Stock Exchange or a former Michigan Congressman who lives in DC and Florida.  An early August poll tested her against a half dozen Republican possibilities and found her with single digit leads.  Not big enough leads to let her or you be complacent.  Elissa Slotkin entered July with $3.7 million for her campaign.  Once some Republican candidates announce for the  Senator, they will be able to raise a lot of money.   She will need to raise a lot more.  Help Elissa Slotkin keep this seat Blue.

Missouri. I am among the few who believe that it is possible to oust Republican faux super-masculine Senator Josh Hawley.  Lucas Kunce is a veteran and attorney who worked on arms control issues for the Pentagon and blames large corporations for the destruction of small towns throughout Missouri.  There are no polls for this race yet.  Hawley had $4.5 million available for the race as of July 1.  Lucas Kunce is not doing badly with $1.2 million, but he will need a lot more to compete.  I will encourage you to donate.