Why Lincoln hasn’t had a Republican mayor in almost 25 years

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Lincoln’s mayoral race set records – and possibly precedent for future elections.

Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird was reelected Tuesday night, with nearly 44,000 votes cast in her favor.

She beat out her opponent, former State Sen. Suzanne Geist, by more than 7,500 votes.

In total, 80,401 votes were recorded for both candidates.

And the most recent results show that over 45% of registered voters in the city turned in a ballot for the general election, setting a new record in Lincoln.

SEE ALSO: Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird appoints new chief of staff

For a local election, those are staggering numbers.

Experts believe that there are a few variables that pushed people to the polls, including campaign expenses.

Gaylor Baird and Geist raised over $3 million combined.

“Money can’t buy you an election, and it cannot buy you a vote, but what it can buy you is attention,” said Kevin Smith, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “And with all of the money that was being pumped into the mayoral race, it was pretty hard to live in the city of Lincoln and not be cognizant that there was a mayoral election going on.”

In Lincoln, there are around 66,000 registered Republicans and 62,000 registered Democrats.

But the city hasn’t had a Republican mayor since Dale Young in 1999.

Lancaster County Election Commissioner Todd Wiltgen said one group in particular plays a significant role in who is elected.

“The big difference maker are the independents,” Wiltgen said. “Those nonpartisan voters, we have about 42,000 of those registered in the city of Lincoln. So while we have two major parties, we have a lot of independents that definitely make a difference when it comes to elections.”

And since the Lincoln general election ballots are nonpartisan, people are more likely to vote across the aisle than they are in statewide or national elections.

“A lot of political science research suggests that if you haven’t got the ‘D’ or the ‘R,’ what you go on is name recognition,” Smith said. “And an incumbent mayor has a huge advantage in terms of recognition within the city.”

SEE ALSO: Latest election results

So what does all of that mean for the future of local elections?

Well, Smith said it’s hard to tell.

“This could just be a one-off,” he said. “That’s always a possibility. I think the precedent has been set now, though, is that anyone who is going to seriously consider running for mayor is going to recognize that, ‘I might need a truckload of cash to be a competitive candidate’ and will organize their campaign accordingly.”

Voter turnout for mayoral elections in the future will largely depend on the funding for candidates.

That, too, is up in the air.

Smith said since a lot of the campaign money was fronted by a few big donors this election, it’s anyone’s guess on whether they will invest next time as well.

“The question of whether they’d want to repeat that exercise given the election results, I guess, remains to be seen,” he said.

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