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Pressure builds from Nebraska Trump loyalists for a winner-take-all system

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Far-right conservatives loyal to former President Donald Trump aren’t slowing their push for the Republican-led Nebraska Legislature to adopt a “winner-take-all” system of awarding Electoral College votes, despite having almost no viable avenue to do so with only five days left in this year’s legislative session.

The Nebraska Republican Party, currently led by Trump loyalists, will hold a rally Tuesday in Omaha featuring conservative activist Charlie Kirk to target the state’s atypical system of splitting its five presidential electoral votes based on the popular vote within its congressional districts. Maine is the only other state to split its electoral votes.

Republicans want the switch ahead of this year’s hotly contested presidential election to ensure an electoral vote tied to Nebraska’s Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District doesn’t go to President Joe Biden, as it did in 2020. Barack Obama became the first presidential contender to shave off that electoral vote in 2008.

“California would never do this. New York would never do this. And as long as that’s the case, neither should we,” Kirk said Tuesday via X, formerly known as Twitter.

If Biden were to win the Rust Belt swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, an electoral vote from Nebraska would give him the 270 electoral votes he needs to win reelection, even if Trump wins all the other swing states.

The issue gained national attention when Kirk urged his followers to call Republican Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen’s office to urge the state to adopt a winner-take-all approach this year. Within hours, Pillen did just that.

Trump, in turn, took to his social media platform, Truth Social, to praise Pillen and urge the switch to winner-take-all in Nebraska, saying “it’s what the Founders intended.”

More buzz followed on Wednesday when state Sen. Mike McDonnell announced he was switching political parties from Democrat to Republican. The unique one-chamber Nebraska Legislature is officially nonpartisan, but lawmakers self-identify as Republican, Democrat or independent and tend to vote along party lines. With McDonnell’s switch, Republicans now hold 33 of the legislative body’s 49 seats.

Republican pundits celebrated the move as giving Republicans a filibuster-proof majority and a shot at pushing through a winner-take-all measure. Even Republicans in Nebraska’s federal delegation — U.S. Sen. Pete Ricketts and U.S. Rep. Mike Flood — got in on the act, issuing statements welcoming McDonnell and urging the Legislature to pass a winner-take-all measure.

Republican state Sen. Julie Slama answered Pillen’s call by taking a winner-take-all bill currently stalled in committee and attaching it as an amendment to an unrelated bill — a practice not allowed under the Nebraska Constitution.

When the amendment was challenged, Slama called on her colleagues to ignore the law.

“Germanenous means what we want it to mean in the Nebraska Legislature,” she said. “The courts have largely upheld how we chose to regulate ourselves, and if we have the votes, odds are the courts will rule that it is germane.”

She also acknowledged that the window to change Nebraska’s system this year is closing.

“If you want winner-take-all in the state of Nebraska, this is your chance,” she said. “This is the last train out of the station.”

The presiding officer — a fellow Republican — found the amendment not germane, and the vote to overrule that decision overwhelmingly failed.

But the push by the GOP continued Thursday, with Kirk tweeting that another attempt will be made in the coming days to attach a winner-take-all amendment to another unrelated bill. But many state lawmakers seemed dubious. Even Slama responded on X that it’s unlikely.

“It won’t come up for a vote again,” she wrote. “Winner Takes All isn’t moving in 2024.”

Margery A. Beck, The Associated Press

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