These 2 congressional districts could decide the election. Biden is up in both.

Adam Edelman
·6 min read

LEWISTON, Maine — Elise Hoy, a cashier in this quaint city 40 miles north of Portland, is a registered Republican who cast her vote four years ago for Donald Trump. But this year, she voted early for Joe Biden.

"Trump is off his rocker," said Hoy, 62. "He's just not a responsible man."

"I will vote for anyone who I believe can do the job well," she said. "I voted for Trump in 2016 because I thought that. I am not voting for him this year because I no longer think that."

Hoy is part of a group of voters in two all but unique spots in the U.S. that could have outsize impacts on the election.

With the Electoral College map unusually purple this year — states like Iowa, Arizona, Georgia, Minnesota and possibly even Texas are up for grabs — Trump and Biden each have several more feasible paths to the presidency than candidates of both parties normally have in recent cycles.

That, however, also means there is a higher possibility than usual that the race could end in a 269-269 electoral vote tie.

As a result, two areas seldom paid attention to in election years have come more clearly into focus: Maine's 2nd Congressional District — which encompasses nearly all of the state outside the Portland and Augusta metro areas — and Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District — which comprises Omaha, its suburbs and some cornfields to its south.

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Maine awards two of its four Electoral College votes to the statewide winner, and Nebraska awards two of its five, but they both also allow their congressional districts — two in Maine and three in Nebraska— to award one vote each to the winner in the districts.

This year, any of those lone votes could be the difference.

An advantage for Biden

Both districts are purple, and they have awarded their one vote to presidential candidates from both parties in recent history.

Democrats carried Maine's 2nd District in every election since 1992 before Trump flipped it red in 2016 by seizing on its rural, union-heavy makeup the way he did in many states across the Upper Midwest. Nebraska's 2nd District has gone red in every election since 2000, except in 2008, when Barack Obama narrowly carried it. Trump carried it only narrowly himself in 2016.

Image: Elise Hoy (Adam Edelman / NBC News)
Image: Elise Hoy (Adam Edelman / NBC News)

Polls show Biden up in both districts by small margins. According to the latest polling averages by FiveThirtyEight, Biden leads Trump in Maine's 2nd by 47.9 percent to 45.3 percent, and he leads Trump in Nebraska's 2nd by 50.2 percent to 45.7 percent.

Conversations with a dozen voters in the Maine district affirm Biden's advantage. A broad mix of disaffected Republican voters, like Hoy, as well as independents, reliable Democrats and Democrats who sat out 2016 because of their ambivalence toward Hillary Clinton, said they're voting or have already voted for Biden.

Debby Richards, 62, a retiree from Lewiston, voted early for Biden last week, citing her confidence that he'll better handle the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The way Trump has done it so far frightens me. Covid is at the top of my list, and I think Biden actually has a plan," said Richards, an independent who has voted mostly for Democrats over the past several general elections.

Robert Winckler, 21, a student at Bates College in Lewiston, said he supported Bernie Sanders during the primary race but is giving his full support to Biden.

"Originally I wasn't on the Biden train at all. I wasn't sold he'll do the right things. But now I am 100 percent in. There's too much at stake," he said.

Roger Raymond, 65, a Democrat who voted early for Biden, said he was "tired of all the crookedness from President Trump over the last four years," while Jim Robbins, 25, said was voting for Biden after not having voted at all in 2016 because he supported Sanders and "didn't like Hillary at all but don't mind Biden."

All four said they all also voted or will vote for Democratic Senate candidate Sara Gideon in her race to unseat vulnerable Republican Sen. Susan Collins.

Image: Gary Hall (Adam Edelman / NBC News)
Image: Gary Hall (Adam Edelman / NBC News)

Even devoted Trump supporters acknowledged that their candidate is flawed, but many said they were sticking with him because they supported his policies.

"I don't like him. I don't like how he behaves or how he says things. They don't seem well thought out. But his policies are spot on, specifically curtailing immigration and reducing taxes. And he's been good for small businesses like mine," said Gary Hall, who owns a small workers compensation insurance firm.

Hall, 72, a Republican who voted for Trump in 2016, called the president "the lesser of two evils" and said Biden "has had zero original ideas in the 47 years he's been in politics."

"What has he actually gotten done in all that time?" Hall said.

Meanwhile, strategists, current and former lawmakers and seasoned political observers said they were bullish on Biden's prospects in Nebraska's 2nd District, too, saying a competitive House race in the district is juicing turnout.

"There's a presidential race in play. There's a congressional race in play. It's all going to cause a lot more people here, especially in Omaha, to vote, which helps Biden," said Randall Adkins, a political scientist and associate dean at the University of Nebraska Omaha.

In a sign that both campaigns have their eyes on those single electoral votes, Trump and several Biden surrogates visited the two districts recently.

Trump held a rally Tuesday in Omaha — a visit that was marred when hundreds of attendees were left stranded on a tarmac in freezing cold temperatures — and he visited Levant, in Maine's 2nd District, last weekend. The spouses of the Biden campaign — Jill Biden and Kamala Harris' husband, Doug Emhoff — have also visited the two states in recent weeks.

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Kara Eastman, the Democratic challenger in Nebraska's 2nd District race to unseat Republican Rep. Don Bacon — considered a toss-up by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report — said the presidential race in the district can be summed by the fact that Trump, unlike in 2016, now has a record to run on.

"The difference is that this year, Nebraskans have had four years of Donald Trump to evaluate, to see if they're better off than four years ago," said Eastman, who narrowly lost her bid in the same race two years ago. "Most people here are not."

Some voters in Maine's 2nd echoed that sentiment, too.

"He had his chance to show he could govern," said Hoy, the 2016 Trump voter who is now supporting Biden. "He blew it."