GOP Poll Gives Challenger Late Edge in Rare GOP Pickup Opportunity

Republican Don Bacon narrowly leads Nebraska Democrat Brad Ashford

Republican polling gives Nebraska's Don Bacon a late advantage in his challenge to Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford in the state's 2nd District. (Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republican polling shows the party's chances improving in Nebraska's 2nd District, one of the GOP's three top opportunities to knock off a Democratic incumbent this year.

Retired Brig. Gen. Don Bacon led incumbent Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford 48 to 44 percent among registered voters in a North Star Opinion Research poll, shared first with Roll Call. The poll was conducted Oct. 22-24 for the Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC tied to House GOP leadership. The fund has invested $950,000 on TV and digital in the Omaha-based district. 

Bacon trailed Ashford 41 to 47 percent in a North Star poll from late August. North Star attributed Bacon's improving numbers to positive information voters are seeing about him on TV and negative ads they're seeing about Ashford.

This month's poll also found voters preferred a generic Republican candidate to a Democrat by the same 48 to 44 percent margin. 

In the presidential race, Republican Donald Trump led Democratic rival Hillary Clinton 44 to 40 percent in the district, with 8 percent supporting Libertarian Gary Johnson and 2 percent backing the Green Party's Jill Stein. 

Forty percent of the interviews were conducted by cell phone, and the poll had a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points. 

[Roll Call's 2016 Election Guide: House]

Ashford has been a top GOP target because he sits in a district that Mitt Romney carried by 7 points in 2012. He narrowly unseated Republican Rep. Lee Terry in 2014, a defeat that Republicans chalked up as a rejection of the gaffe-prone Terry more than an endorsement of Ashford. 

A onetime Republican and independent, Ashford has tried to distance himself from his current party since he'll need split-ticket voters to help him win re-election. He's one of just a handful of Democrats to earn the endorsement of pro-business groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business. 

As one of two states (along with Maine) that split their electoral votes by congressional district, Nebraska's 2nd District has also been a presidential target. Clinton's coordinated campaign recently announced extra spending here — split with Maine's 2nd District — to benefit down-ballot Democrats. And Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, will speak at a rally in the district on Thursday. 

An internal poll for Ashford's campaign in late September gave him a 10-point edge over Bacon, 50 to 40 percent. 

The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rates this seat as Tilts Democrat

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