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Ah, that 2008 presidential electoral vote.

The 2011 Legislature is coming to town Wednesday and it has a lot on its plate.

Enormous budget decisions lie ahead that could -- no, make that will -- have a lasting impact on the state.

Lots of stuff to settle:

-- The scope, form and quality of health and human services, including Medicaid's range of medical services. We are mostly talking about kids and the elderly living in nursing homes.

-- The quality of academics and state services at the University of Nebraska at the very moment it is positioned to get better, the level of public funding obligations to a state university and affordable access for modest-income students and their families.

-- The amount of state financial aid to public schools, a decision that weighs the proper mix between local and state responsibility.

-- Road construction funding, its role in economic development, its value as economic stimulus.

And much more.

One of the obligations this new Legislature faces is congressional and legislative redistricting in response to population changes documented by the 2010 census. There will be partisan division in the non-partisan legislature in drawing some of the boundary lines.

But there's another political battle brewing that this Legislature need not tackle, but may choose to fight.

Nebraska is one of only two states that award some of their presidential electoral votes by congressional districts. 

Two go to the statewide winner in Nebraska, one to the winner in each of the three congressional districts.

In 2008, Barack Obama won metropolitan Omaha's 2nd District electoral vote.

Nebraska Republicans did not like that, so there may be a very partisan battle in the Legislature to wipe out the congressional district electoral votes and return to the earlier system of handing all five of Nebraska's votes to the statewide winner.

That Omaha district vote was "my personal favorite target," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe revealed in his post-election book, "The Audacity to Win."

It might be on his radar again.

But there's more to this than denying Obama and Democrats another crack at that electoral vote in 2012.

The opportunity to snatch that vote in Republican Nebraska brought the Obama campaign into Omaha in 2008 to mount a substantial ground game, register new voters, attract a wave of young and ethnic voters, awaken occasional voters, mount an early-voter surge and build and energize an expanded Democratic voting base.

The only statewide office held by Democrats, their lone remaining prize in Nebraska, will be up for grabs in 2012.

Depress that Omaha vote generated two years ago and it will have an impact on Nebraska's 2012 Senate race as well as the metropolitan Omaha House race.

When Republicans talk about a winner-take-all electoral vote system in 2012, they may be talking about more than the presidential race.

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Chatter says there might be an opportunity for a self-funded private sector candidate in the 2012 Republican Senate race.

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Mike Simmonds of Omaha is the name that has been mentioned most often.

Simmonds, a fast-food tycoon who amassed 73 Burger Kings, along with a scattering of Taco John's and Jimmy John's before selling the BK franchises, is one of the major contributors to the drive to recall Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle.

Simmonds donated $50,000, according to campaign finance records.

A phone message left at Simmonds Restaurant Management last week prompted a return phone message stating Mr. Simmonds has no interest in entering the Senate race.

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Finishing up:

-- On last week's list of Jeff Fortenberry's nominees for admission to the U.S. Military Academy: Ethan Fritz of Verdon, son of Lyle and Noala Fritz. Ethan would be the third son to go to West Point, following Dan and Jake. In 2007, Jacob was killed in Iraq. Dan was deployed to Iraq in September.

-- Nebraska's 2nd District is not on the early list of House seats targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2012, according to Roll Call. Charlie Cook's early-bird look has the Omaha seat listed as "solid Republican." No surprises there.

-- Ben Nelson, on rejection of the omnibus appropriations plan: "At a time when a $134 million cut in state education funding (in Nebraska) is on the table, it is dismaying Congress cut funding for Head Start. At a time when the University of Nebraska faces a possible $50 million cut in funding, Congress killed money for the promising Innovation Campus in Lincoln."

-- Now that the 2010 season is done, this year's incredible big-name schedule comes into view. But it's a long winter when the Huskers finish with a thud. 

-- Psst, there's an offensive genius down the hall.

-- Forty-one days until pitchers and catchers report.

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Reach Don Walton at 402-473-7248 or at


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